For wide-eyed first-timers to New York, the lure of Broadway and all its promises of razzle dazzle would have been irresistible. Such was the lure which led me to fork out a mouth-watering US$500 for two mezzanine tickets at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in midtown Manhattan.
If the stage setting was anything to go by – pure opulence bathed in a sumptuous, saucy sea of red – Alex Timbers’ adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 classic film is the full embodiment of Broadway showmanship. Just soaking up the grandeur of the Al Hirschfeld Theatre was an event in itself for those savvy enough to arrive early. In addition to the movie’s signature elephant and windmill taking pride of place on set, the red-on-red heart décor promised a larger-than-life love story.
The place is now set for the titular Paris nightclub, and thus Moulin Rouge! begins with a bold rendition of “Lady Marmalade”, expertly performed by four women clad in sexy black lingerie befitting of the times (the year is ostensibly 1899). The stage soon yielded the famous courtesan Satine (Karen Olivo) in similarly opulent fashion, making her grand entrance by way of descending heavenly from a swing, clad in a diamond corset and belting out none other than “Diamonds Are Forever”.
In contrast, our leading man Christian (played by an enchantingly boyish Aaron Tveit of the Les Misérables fame) emerges from the city’s more humble backstreets. Don’t be fooled by his humble origins though. The aspiring songwriter from small-town Ohio boasts a voice of rich dulcet tenor which crescendoes like molten lava, fiery and velvety at the same time. And boy, that face! Shy. Mercurial. It was the face to which the spotlights were inextricably drawn that night, darting and weaving, but always searching and finding solace in its steady beauty. It was as if he belonged there; a fixture of the Parisian bohemian setting and a bastion of unconditional love.
Like the film, Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox bonanza, incorporating more than 75 of the most celebrated pop songs of our time in a tightly woven two-and-a-half hours. Unlike the film, the musical did what movies could not: bringing actors and their vulnerabilities to life. The musical’s centrepieces – “Your Song”, “Shut Up and Dance” and “Come What May” – showcase Satine and Christian’s fated love story just as well as their hopes.
Moulin Rouge! has also been blessed with an ultra-talented supporting cast, who delivered pyrotechnic medleys of “Bad Romance”, “Chandelier” and “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This”. The show will have you glued to the edge of your seats wondering what’s next on the Who’s Who of the international pop scene. And in a moment of levity, Christian’s impressive lyrical mash-up “I Don’t Want to Wait”, “Every Breath You Take” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” produced one of the most memorable moments of the show.
Many a naysayer will condemn the musical for its uninspiring and lacklustre storytelling. However, ultimately its splendour lies not in the narrative, but in Broadway’s deep understanding that human hearts are won by popular music that helps us to relate, interpret and unpack our feelings.
By the end of the night, the atmosphere was electric and the audience spent. Timeout called Moulin Rouge! “the jukebox musical to end all jukebox musicals” and it’s not far from the mark. As makeshift heart confetti flowed from the ceilings, so did our hearts overflow with the euphoria of witnessing something truly alive and extraordinary. Broadway did more than just razzle dazzle, it set alight our collective fantasies of love, lust and the audacity of dreams. Such was Moulin Rouge!’s timeless appeal, and it delivered in spades.
Rewatchability Index: 4.5/5.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical premiered on 10 July 2018 at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston. Moulin Rouge! opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre and previews commenced on 28 June 2019. Official Broadway run commenced on 25 July 2019, continuing through to 5 July 2020. International premiere of the musical would take place in Melbourne, Australia, at the Regent Theatre in 2021. The writer soaked up the Broadway extravaganza on 6 August 2019.