MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICALBook by John Logan
Based on the film by Baz Luhrmann
Directed by Alex Timbers
Choreography by Sonya Tayeh
Music Supervisor, Co-Orchestrator, Arrangements and Additional Lyrics by Justin Levine
Music production by Matt Stine
Scenic design by Derek McLane
Costume design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting design by Justin Townsend
Sound design by Peter Hylenski
Wig and hair design by David Brian Brown
Makeup design by Sarah Cimino
Creative services by Baz Luhrmann and Catherin Martin
Casting by Jim Carnahan and Stephen Kopel
Production Stage Manager is Dawn Fenton
Music Director is Andrew Graham
Co-Orchestration by Katie Kresek, Charlie Rosen, and Matt Stine
Dance Arrangements by Justin Levine and Matt Stine
Music Coordinator is Michael Aarons
Associate Director is Matt DiCarlo
Associate Choreographer is Camden Gonzalez
Associate Music Supervisor is Ted Arthur
Company Manager is Ryan Garson
Courtney Reed as Satine
Conor Ryan as Christian
Austin Durant as Harold Zidler
Nick Rashad Burroughs as Toulouse-Lautrec
Andrew Brewer as The Duke of Monroth
Gabe Martinez as Santiago
Libby Lloyd as Nini
Nicci Claspell as Arabia
Harper Miles as La Chocolat
Andres Quintero as Baby Doll
Sharrod Williams as Pierre
Ensemble is Adrienne Balducci, Sam J. Cahn, Nicci Claspell, Darius Crenshaw, Alexis Hasbrouck, Cameron Hobbs, Tyler John Logan, Harper Miles, Tanisha Moore, Brayden Newby, Kent Overshown, Andres Quintero, Adea Michelle Sessoms, Jenn Stafford, Sharrod Williams, Jennifer Wolfe, Ricardo A. Zayas
Reviewed Performance: 3/17/2023
Reviewed by Ann Saucer, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
As the audience enters the Music Hall, red light leaps off the stage as blazing strobe lights sweep the theater. The iconic Moulin Rouge windmill is to the audience’s left and a tasseled elephant looms large on our right. The fiery stage sports successive heart-shaped arches framed by soaring curtains. The audience enjoys a visual festival of red hearts, fleur de lis, shells, and rose patterns in the ornate set. The titular club’s name is suspended in neon.
A pre-show burlesque puts the crowd in just the right frame of mind. Lavishly costumed cabaret performers stalk the stage with sultry moves. Before the play commences, we see them preen and pose in seductive languor, adorned with feathers, corsets, fishnet stockings, garters, and black gloves slinking past the elbow. Some men sport top hats and tails. Some pose like seductive mannequins, and all have perfected sinewy catlike movements. An overtly seductive woman bends and flaunts her curves. Red sequined bedecked women sport swords, which they waive around before swallowing them whole.
Four dancers erupt onto the scene with a rousing tribute to soul sisters. The burlesque style hand motions and elaborate headdresses emphasize the erotic music. Club owner and emcee Harold Zidler (Austin Durant) storms the stage with a rousing welcome to the reprobates and rascals who can enjoy the corner of the world where their fantasies live and their carnal desires will come true.
Zidler’s opening folds the audience into the play itself, as if we are sitting in his raucous club over a hundred years ago. Zidler tells us that we are in more than a nightclub. The Moulin Rouge is a state of mind. This is true, in that we become the audience within the play, and the play is not tethered to one period of time. The character of Toulouse-Lautrec (Nick Rashad Burroughs), costumes, and set ground the play in the late Nineteenth century, but the music is anachronistic.
Of the glorious dance numbers throughout the musical, my favorite was the traditional can-can. There are so many ersatz versions, I had forgotten how dazzling this dance number is when performed by true high-kickers. These dancers’ legs fly straight up in the air as they swirl voluminous, multi-ruffled skirts, and land in dramatic splits. In addition to burlesque and French can-can, the choreography includes ballet and more modern moves, such as men advancing while the female dancers holding their legs are dragged forward.
Singing Sympathy for the Devil with exquisite sinister poise, Andrew Brewer as the Duke of Monroth slides across the stage like a smarmy, entitled snake. Brewer perfectly encapsulates a rich jerk. He even manages to deliver pop song lines like they’re coming from a horrible human being. And the dialogue! His character says things like, “it is unseemly for my mistress to be seen in public,” and, “I am the aristocrat paying for your proletarian extravaganza.” Brewer’s devotion to his character’s villainy is significant in justifying the protagonists’ treatment of him.
The Duke correctly calls Zidler “Pander” as he promises the Duke a private audience with the show’s star in her private on-site lair, the “elephant” in the club. The audience shortly meets the Duke’s rival, the adorably tousled Christian (Conor Ryan), who is urged by his friends Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago (Gabe Martinez) to secure his own private audience with star.
In a flashback to Christian’s early Paris days, the set magically transports us to the grey streets of the hard-scrabble Montmartre neighborhood where Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago improvise comically horrible versions of “the hills are alive.” A passing Christian finishes the line, and the audience is introduced to a musical device so derivative it seems original. Think the Cruel Intentions musical’s use of 1990’s pop songs, but on speed and not constrained by any decade at all. Frequently one line of a hit song is plucked out to great comic effect, and then the singer moves on to another song entirely. This device is most effectively employed when Christian seduces Satine (Courtney Reed). Their sparks fly all the better when they duel with surprisingly apropos choruses from famous pop love songs.
Conor Ryan as Christian wins the audience over with a crowd-pleasing rendition of We Are Young. Satine is dramatically revealed suspended from the ceiling. She kicks off a song and dance medley with a diamond theme, ultimately ending up on a diamond stage platform. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend and put a ring on it. She is a brick house after all.
Satine is the sex worker with a heart of gold. Think all the things: abused child of the gutter, protecting the only family she has, not actually lying if you listen to her warn the good guy like a gazillion times, and of course tragically doomed. For all that cliché, Reed dazzles as she sells it.
As visually splendid and voluptuous as this production is, its strength is the singing. Reed and Ryan can belt it, hold it, and croon it with the best of them, and their duets are a thing of beauty. These pop songs are adapted in a way that makes you listen to them in the first instance, or even rehear them with heightened depth of meaning. Elton John’s Your Song is particularly perfect for its plain spoken, vulnerable longing, and any reasonable person would fall for Ryan singing it to them.
I thought that the enormous heart archways framing the nightclub stage could not blare the love theme any louder, but then the star-crossed lovers are transported to the Eiffel Tower and quick-changed into some form of horny super-heroes. Their harmony together is truly gorgeous.
When we return from intermission, Christian speaks directly to us, imploring the audience to remember our first love and understand the insanity to follow. Now the setting is the polar opposite. Gone is the red neon, and sooty grey bricks are the new backdrop.
While the first act is devoted to the bright side of love and sex, the second infuses dark and hellish overtones. Even a scene in a high-end dress shop is given a nightmare quality. Satine finally has everything she ever wanted, and she doesn’t want it.
Ryan earns the audience’s adoration. Christian starts out innocent with just the right amount of physical awkwardness to be endearing. But he evolves into a confident lover, pulling the sash off Satine’s dress as their chaise lounge is whisked off stage left. When Christian drowns in heartbreak, Ryan incredibly belts out songs as a drunk and anguished Christian, and his singing also sounds great. His mental breakdown is accented by dramatic light design evocative of a fiery hell.
“Never fall in love with a woman who sells herself. It always ends badly.” Of the many pop songs with lyrics enjoyed anew, Roxanne and Rolling in the Deep are spot on glorious. As music can have new meaning, so can the lines in a play. The play-within-a-play financed by the Duke has lines that in rehearsal are comically melodramatic, but there is nothing funny in their ultimate tragic delivery.
As Zidler, Durant shows us how star power is employed. He can sing, mime, joke with the timing of a stand-up, and steal a scene when it’s his turn. At the end Zidler stands with Christian, Santiago, and Toulouse-Lautrec to deliver the bohemian motto of truth, beauty, freedom, and love. Toulouse-Lautrec is freedom. In the role, Burroughs treats the audience to a gorgeous ballad, and is a spitfire standing up to the Duke: “I’m an artist. You should quake at that.” Martinez shows singing and dancing chops as Santiago ooh la la’s himself through a Lady Gaga number.
Pop music aside, the Moulin Rouge musical takes place in the late 1800’s, when the post-impressionist master Henri Toulouse-Lautrec was a denizen of the bohemian club scene in Paris’ Montmartre neighborhood. An outsider due to a debilitating childhood injury, Toulouse-Lautrec designed magnificent posters for cabarets and painted poignant portraits of performers and sex workers in their private moments. At one point in the musical, we are treated to a collage of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most iconic works, with several cast members appearing as the human embodiment of Jan Avril and others. In the musical, historic liberties have been taken with his life (most obviously that, a prop cane and reference to his misshapen form notwithstanding, the actor is an able-bodied man of normal stature).
The costumes include outfitting the Montmartre citizenry in gorgeous black and white dresses with clever use of geometric patterns. In the Duke’s richer environs, ladies parade in floor-length gowns of pastel blues, pink, and lavender, accessorized with gravity-defying hats and curtains of netting. The men wear top hats and tails not only as street clothes, but also to dance in. The dance costumes are overtly sexy, frequently very cheeky, and include tear-aways for some dramatic medley transitions. Satine appears in a variety of voluptuous dance costumes and negligees.
The lighting is exquisite. The strobe lights serve to bring the audience into the action. The play-within-a-play includes traditional spotlights. The set is infused with splashy neon, and the dramatic changes in colors transport the audience from inside the nightclub to gritty streets, a night sky shining with constellations, and more monied quarters of the city. The lighting changes transform what the audience sees, as for example drawing out filigree patterns suggestive of wrought iron fencing.
The live orchestra is absolutely first rate as it follows a score that leaps from one song to another, sometimes after just one line. The horns delight in the cabaret, and strings reverberate around the hall in the hellscape scene.
If you like musicals, you are going to love Moulin Rouge for packing as many blockbuster hits as possible into a single show. Powerhouse vocalists, versatile choreography, exquisite sets and costumes, and a live orchestra make for an incredible theater experience.
March 15 – April 2, 2023
Fair Park, Enter at Gate 5
809 Grand Avenue / Dallas, TX 75210
For information and Tickets call 214-670-8400 or go https://www.fairparkdallas.com/events/detail/moulin-rouge-the-musical