You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Moulin Rouge!’

Baz Luhrmann's iconic, trippy movie comes to the stage with its grandeur and craziness intact.

Karen Olivo, Aaron Tveit, Danny Burstein, Sahr Ngaujah, Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas, Robyn Hurder.

Yes they can-can — they can transform Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 absinthe-tinged fantasia “Moulin Rouge!” into a socko stage spectacular. The story’s been strengthened in this splashy production, while expectations of cinema-inspired visual splendor are met and even exceeded. As for its song score, you can forget about your so-called jukebox shows and their dozen or so standards shoved into a narrative. With 70-odd pop smashes — from Piaf to Perry, from “Lady Marmalade” to Lady Gaga — baked into its dialogue and DNA, “Moulin Rouge!” has a battery that never runs down. Future prospects on Broadway and beyond, following this brief premiere engagement resuscitating Boston’s venerable Emerson Colonial Theater, seem as rosy-red as the luscious crimson wash poured over the whole business.

The production delivers — does it ever — on Luhrmann and creative partner Catherine Martin’s signature aesthetic, a delirious meld of modern Clubland attitudes and La Belle Epoque revolutionary fervor. With a glittering red windmill spinning above house left and a giant blue elephant rearing over house right, Derek McLane’s set evokes the fabled Montmartre nitery in Valentine’s Day candybox mode, later shifting — with the help of Justin Townsend’s daring, supple lighting effects — into stark film noir on Paris’s mean streets.

Vogueing through it all is an ensemble proudly sporting Catherine Zuber’s period-faithful yet showbiz-heightened costumes as if on a Fashion Week runway, each bustier or tux or gown more audacious than the last. Zuber and director Alex Timbers have deliberately chosen to represent the widest possible range of body types with frank sensuality, making a welcome statement of inclusiveness.

If the visual watchword is tasteful excess, the rhythm of the night is a pulsating backbeat as the cascade of greatest hits works its magic. The show offers a nonstop game of Name That Tune, each familiar vamp eliciting a squeal of recognition, followed by a roar of approval when “Roxanne” or “Firework,” or the scalding act two opener, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” is performed in full. (The film’s famous “Elephant Love Medley” is revised and expanded for this new edition.) Music supervisor Justin Levine weaves the numbers together with remarkable variety, while choreographer Sonya Tayeh presides over a virtual chronicle of 20th century movement that perhaps only a veteran of eclectic styles on “So You Think You Can Dance” could execute with such confidence.

As for the story, librettist John Logan has fortified the melancholy triangle contrived for the film by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce. Courtesan/headliner Satine (the fierce, phenomenally gifted Karen Olivo) is no passive lily waiting to be consumed by consumption, but a shrewd calculator of percentages in weighing poor but earnest songwriter Christian (dashing Aaron Tveit, injecting the right amount of madness) against the rapacious but well-heeled Duke of Monroth (moody, romantic Tam Mutu). That each man offers a plausible option for Satine invests her choices with greater weight and suspense.

Supporting roles have also been given careful attention. As club entrepreneur Harold Zidler, Danny Burstein is periodically allowed to drop the carnival barker bombast and show us the loneliness and ache within. Particularly satisfying is the metamorphosis of Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah, so brilliant in “Fela!”) from the movie’s lisping goofball to a defiant defender of artistic freedom. Ngaujah presents a cane and crabbed walk in place of the painter’s diminutive size, and his backstory, including a hopeless passion for Satine, prompts the show’s single most memorable — and quiet — musical moment, a heartbreaking rendition of “Nature Boy.”

Timbers’ knack for revving up an audience in “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and especially “Here Lies Love” is much in evidence here. Although he has sought moments to tighten the springs and bring down the hoopla, more work is to be done if act two isn’t to exhaust cast and spectator alike. (Prime candidate for excision is the too-campy “Green Fairy” fantasy, seemingly inserted because it’s in the film, even though a single absinthe shot would be enough to get Christian out the door to move the plot along.)

Still, you can’t spell “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” without “outrageous,” and creators have got to dance with the extravagance that brung ’em. To their credit, Timbers, Logan and company aren’t just riding on the sensory experience, but are committed to finding the right balance between a story that will engage and move us, and a visual and aural environment that can, and does, blow us away.

Pre-Broadway Review: 'Moulin Rouge!'

Emerson Colonial Theater, Boston, MA, 1,500 seats, $229 top. Opened, reviewed Aug. 3, 2018; runs through Aug. 19. Running time: TWO HOURS, 40 MIN.

Production: Carmen Pavlovic, Gerry Ryan, Bill Damaschke, Global Creatures, Hunter Arnold, Darren Bagert, Adam Blanshay Productions/Nicolas Talar, Aleri Entertainment, AF Creative Media/International Theatre Fund, CJ E&M, Gilad-Rogowsky/Instone Productions, IMG Original Content, John Gore Organization, Spencer Ross, Erica Lynn Schwartz/Stephanie Rosenberg, Iris Smith/Triptyk Studios, Carl Daikeler/Sandi Moran, DeSantis-Baugh Productions present a musical in two acts with book by John Logan, based on the 2001 Twentieth Century Fox motion picture written by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, directed by Baz Luhrmann.

Creative: Directed by Alex Timbers. Choreography, Sonya Tayeh. Music supervision, co-orchestrator, co-arranger and additional lyrics, Justin Levine. Sets, Derek McLane; costumes, Catherine Zuber; lighting, Justin Townsend; sound, Peter Hylenski; music director, Cian McCarthy; production stage manager, Adam John Hunter.

Cast: Karen Olivo, Aaron Tveit, Danny Burstein, Sahr Ngaujah, Tam Mutu, Ricky Rojas, Robyn Hurder.

More Legit

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

  • Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    Michael Jackson Estate Cancels Musical Test-Run

    With an HBO documentary that places strong allegations of abuse against Michael Jackson premiering in two weeks, the late singer’s estate announced Thursday that it’s canceling a scheduled Chicago test run of a jukebox musical about him. The estate and its producing partner in the musical, Columbia Live Stage, said that they’re setting their sights on going [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content