From the dazzling set design (Derek McLane) and lighting (Justin Townsend) to the sizzling costumes (Catherine Zuber), and of course some spectacularly sexy choreography (Sonya Teyah), it’s easy to forget that there really is a plot to Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Winner of 10 Tony Awards in 2020, including for Best Musical, this show delivers an out-of-the-park hit with its extravagances seductively stealing every musical base.
This touring production, based on the 2001 Baz Lurhrmann film and a book by John Logan, directed by Alex Timbers with musical supervision, orchestrations, arrangements, and additional lyrics by Justin Levin, transports the audience to the decadence of the Moulin Rouge in 1899. A churning windmill and an enormous blue circus elephant flank the stage, reminiscent of the famous French can-can birthplace.
As for the story: an aspiring poet-composer from America arrives in Paris, meets some fellow struggling artists, and falls in love with the night club’s star performer. But with the club in dire financial straits, its owner needs his star to seduce a wealthy patron so that the show can go on. How will the Moulin Rouge survive and will true love find a happy ending?
Satine, played by a captivating Courtney Reed, exudes sensuality in her “Diamonds are Forever” number, capturing the attention of both Christian, an earnest and expressive John Cardoza, as well as the Duke of Monroth, played with an understated villainy by a dashing Andrew Brewer. While Satine is swept away by Christian’s youthful charm, the club’s emcee, Harold Zidler, portrayed by a very entertaining and exuberant Austin Durant, reminds Satine of the needs of her fellow performers: she must turn her attention to the Duke so that they don’t all end up back on the streets.
The wonderful chemistry and vocal strength of Reed and Cardoza is on full display in their scenes together, especially in their delivery of an “elephantedley” of pop songs. Reed’s Satine demonstrates her vulnerabilit effectively, and in turn, becomes a more sympathetic character. At the same time, Cardoza’s Christian is believable as the optimistic, naive youth who is on track to have his heart broken.
Christian’s bohemian companions, Toulouse-Lautrec (Nick Rashad Burroughs) and Santiago (Gabe Martínez) offer compelling performances to make their characters stand out. Burroughs brings a touching sweetness to his character as well as adds to some of the show’s best comedic moments. Martínez’s swagger and bravado also adds to the humor. Libby Lloyd’s dose of rough rawness makes Nini stand out, and her dance number with Martínez, “Backstage Romance,” is a superbly executed visual delight.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical offers a sensuous immersive experience, thoroughly indulging our fantasies, but also offering a touching, heartfelt, love story to ground all the razzle-dazzle. And it doesn’t hurt that the rousing encore sends the audience out into the evening on a high note.
For more information about Moulin Rouge, visit https://moulinrougemusical.com/us-tour/home/.