MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL!
Music- various, Lyrics-various. Book- John Logan
Pre-Broadway / Out of Town Engagement
Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts
Directed By Alex Timbers
Choregraphed By Sonya Tayeh
Music Supervisor, Co-Orchestrator, Co-Arranger, and Additional Lyrics By Justin Levine
Set Designer- Derek McLane
Costume Designer-Catherine Zuber
Lighting Designer- Justin Townsend
Sound Designer -Peter Hylenski
Hair Designer- David Brian Brown
Makeup Designer-Sarah Cimino
Creative Services-Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin
Production Stage Manager- Adam John Hunter
Music Producer- Matt Stine
Music Director- Cian McCarthy
Co-orchestrators- Katie Kresek, Charlie Rosen,Matt Stine
Dance Arrangements- Justin Levine, Matt Stine
Music Coordinator- Michael Aarons
Technical Supervision - Juniper Street Productions
Company Manager- Marc Borsak
Satine- Karen Olivo
Christian- Aaron Tveit
Harold Zidler- Danny Burstein
The Duke of Monroth- Tam Mutu
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - Sahr Ngaujah
Santiago, the Argentinean - Ricky Rojas
La Chocolat -Jacqueline B. Arnold
Baby Doll -Jeigh Madjus
Pierre/Ensemble- Reed Luplau
Dance Captain / ensemble: Jennifer Florentino
Ensemble-Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Joe Carroll, Max Clayton, Natalie Cortez, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, -Robyn Hurder, Holly James, Reed Luplau, Daniel J. Maldonado Morgan Marcell, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Dylan Paul, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Benjamin Rivera, Connor Wince
Reviewed Performance: 8/8/2018
Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I am artist and it should be YOU that should be afraid of me sir.
- Henri de Toulouse
- Henri de Toulouse telling The Duke what he should fear after he demands Toulouse call him a Lord and be afraid of his title and stature in Parisian aristocratic society.
That line at Wednesday’s evening performance of Moulin Rouge The Musical elicited a raucous wave of cheers and applause from the Boston audience at the Emerson Colonial Theatre. Who would have thought that a musical set in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France, during the Belle Epoque at the turn of the 20th century, a source that was used for a critically acclaimed box office hit film would speak to our current political climate?
In 2001 I attended a sneak peek screening of a then unknown film titled Moulin Rouge and in attendance was its director Baz Luhrmann. It was a movie musical like I had never seen before in my life. It was spastic, modern, funky, pop, romantic, colorful, splashy, and went beyond what any movie musical had ever done. Afterwards I had a few moments to speak with Mr. Luhrmann, I told him that he has changed the art of the movie musical forever and that his film demands to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. He was humble and with that Australian accent said, “Well time will tell”. Almost a year later, Moulin Rouge did receive eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. My two friends that were with me that night we all agreed that this movie needs to be on the stage. More importantly it demands to be on Broadway! Almost 18 years later its journey is almost there.
Baz Luhrmann has stated over the years in interviews he plans to bring both his films Strictly Ballroom and Moulin Rouge! to the stage, but before Boston, only SB made it to the stage boards in Sydney Australia in 2014 (and now currently playing at the West End).
Moulin Rouge! has become my favorite motion picture of all time. I proudly own one of the original first printed movie posters framed and hanging on my wall. I have three copies of the DVD. I have met its director and two of its stars (Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo). I’ve studied that film frame by frame. It took music, dance, emotion, comedy, drama, and the camera to this explosion of love and heartache on a whole other level. Luhrmann brought back to life the movie musical. He opened the door for Rob Marshall’s Chicago and others to come through. I have reviewed several out of town /pre-Broadway musicals before. So, while I desperately wanted Moulin Rouge! to be on a stage, it also had be done right, to respect, honor, and be faithful to the film. And that is what worried me the most as I walked into the gold encrusted Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston to review back to back performances.
I attended the matinee and evening performance, for the matinee I was seated in what they are calling the sparkling diamond section. This is where the orchestra normally is. You are literally inches from the cast, sets, etc. You sit on plush cushion seats around tiny tables with lamps (which play into the show!). There is a runway all around you so that you are surrounded by all the action! For the evening show I was seated fourth row from the orchestra center. Both performances gave me opportunities to see things I may have missed from the other show, to observe how audiences’ responses changed, to view how the cast’s energy changed with a different audience, but also get a second viewing if the drastic change in Act II will be a major problem or if it works for the stage version. More on that later.
The Emerson Colonial is a massive three tier theatre that has been refurbished and reconstructed specifically for the opening of Moulin Rouge! If Scenic Designer Derek McLane wanted the audience to be knocked back the second they walked in, mission accomplished. You are met with a massive red neon sign saying Moulin Rouge, behind it huge hearts, a stair case, all lit, the hearts are bejeweled, there is lattice work in gold. Above you swags of red draping, lights, and chandeliers! On either side are the iconic windmill and the purple elephant-and they are both huge! McLane’s sets from there on just continue to be marvelous and detailed beyond imagination. Satine’s chamber within the elephant is gorgeous with loads of color and props. Oh, and wait till you see what happens to her apartment in “The Elephant Medley”. The Duke’s apartment is slick, dark, and erotic. Christian’s humble apartment has the infamous red neon L’ amour sign glowing behind his window. You can also see a tiny windmill and the elephant through the distance in his window! For Satine’s first number (Big relief! She comes down from the ceiling!) her backdrop has a massive diamond that is surrounded with chiffon ruching. During several musical numbers McLane has some exciting set pieces that pay great homage to the film. His scenic design is unprecedented. He literally transports you into another fantastical world.
Costumer Designer Catherine zuber had to be given cart blanche regarding her budget because those costumes are extravagant and luxurious. There is one scene in Act II that the audience gasped and began applauding because of the costumes! Zuber goes from Parisian haute couture to raw sexy, to vamp goddess. Sitting so close I could see the intricate beading. Such as the red, gold, and black beading of the windmill replica on the back of Harold Zidler’s tux tails. Some of the men and women ensemble are costumed in leather and lace, corsets, glitter, rhinestone, and sequins-all of them looking sexy and hot as hell. For the Duke he is dressed in black, but his coat has great detail and trimmed in faux fur, his boots also have beading. Throughout the musical Zuber’s costumes build the palette of a designer that just astounds you throughout the evening. A round of applause must also be paid to Hair/wig Designer David Brian Brown for his impeccable wigs. Those are lace front wigs that the ensemble girls wear for various numbers and they all look beautifully designed and coiffed.
The lighting design by Justin Townsend is a funky, wild, nightclub, lush, romantic, kaleidoscope of color and movement! When we are at the actual Moulin Rouge, Townsend bathes the audience and stage with a plethora of colors, shapes, and LEDS. But when we move into the street of Paris, he bathes the stage with somber hues. His lighting design for the Act II rehearsal number will have your eyes go into spasms, but so worth it! Townsend’s design for the final scene, all I will say is that it is deeply devastating. He took one of the most vital moments from the film and did such a remarkable job with it. His work here is stellar.
Sonya Tayeh is known to television audiences for her eclectic contemporary dance pieces on FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance, which earned her an Emmy Award. But for Moulin Rouge she has choregraphed a diversity of dance genres to create some of the most mind blowing, highly erotic, explosions of dance for a musical that is simply astounding The opening number which comes in several sections is a masterclass on how to choregraph an opening number that will slay the audience. It was a mixture of sexual heat, pop, Broadway Jazz, showgirl fabulous, and contemporary. Her masterpiece is the number “The Rehearsal” in Act II. The ensemble sings and dances to a mash up of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army, Britney Spear’s Toxic and Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". Her chorography for this number was extremely athletic, bold, layered in sweaty sensuality. The way she made her dancers form their bodies, throw or toss them, react or touch each other, the use of their arms and legs all set to this rotation of today’s music had my brain and heart screaming with excitement. The isolation of their arms, legs, torsos, and heads all in precision was visually intoxicating. One more example of Tayeh’s sublime work is the number for "The Duke’s Proposal”. The Duke take’s Satine to a Parisian Couture Shoppe to dress her from head to toe. An army of men appear in tight black sleeveless suits, arm length gloves, and measuring tape. They being to sing and dance to a musical number that combines Rihanna’s “ Only Girl (In the World)”, Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend”, and Madonna’s “Material Girl". This number is masculine, raw, seductive, and the men ensemble execute the choreography superbly.
Tayeh is blessed to have some of Broadway’s best dancers with the perfect technique to accomplish and bring her out of this world, exotic choreography to life. Her choreography did the impossible, she not only was respectful to the original, she created a spine-tingling new world with her choreography.
Alex Timbers (Director), John Logan (book) and Justin Levine (Music Supervisor, Co-Orchestrator, Co-Arranger, and Additional Lyrics) dissected the original source and peeled layer after layer and worked so closely with each other. For example, the supporting characters are now more fleshed out and their emotional paths have been changed. There are some iconic scenes and musical numbers from the film that are not on stage, such as the Duke’s “Like a Virgin” number, but that is because the Duke is a completely distinctive new character on stage now. Logan’s book is fascinating, emotional, hysterical, and beautifully connects to the musical numbers. Even with a massive music catalogue of well known songs (even snippets of a lyric) thrown out, the book weaves into it seamlessly. You do not feel or expect a set up for a song, it just happens, which had the audience applauding the second they recognized the chord. Logan’s book has given the characters emotional strength and poignancy, rare in today’s musical theater.
Levine did the smartest and greatest thing regarding the music for Moulin Rouge. Its been almost 18 years since then film was released, and the world of music has changed. Thus, Levine has brought in a profusion of today’s artists into the score: Beyoncé, Adele, Lady GaGa, Florence and the Machine, Katie Perry, Rihanna, Outkast, and Walk the Moon among many others. He has kept many of the songs from the original as well, including Elton John’s “Your Song” and the power ballad, “Come What May”. But all the numbers are re-orchestrated and played by a kick-as* orchestra (including hot live strings) that almost burn the house down!
This extremely expensive musical (budgeted at $28-$30 million according to some published articles) and is helmed by Director Alex Timbers who has achieved the impossible here, he has brought one of the most beloved movie musicals in the last 18 years to lavish, emotional life. From the first beat of Lady Marmalade to the finale he has created the world of Moulin Rouge that I thought no one would be able to accomplish. The staging, the pace, the energy, but most of all the commitment of his company. It was never pretentious or false. From the principals to the ensemble, they were always in the moment, committed to their character, emotion, and subtext. A director must let his cast breathe, find their path, and he did, and it shows. Timbers direction was phenominal.
Alas we must address the elephant in the room (no pun intended). This was one of the biggest advantages of seeing the musical back to back in one day because I was able to see how the audience reacted differently to this. The biggest disappointment I discovered in seeing the stage version was the elimination of the Bollywood Spectacular! Spectacular! Jaw dropping musical number that was in the film. I knew it would be impossible to recreate this on stage, but I thought there would be some version of this. There was none. In its place Book writer John Logan has created a story of a penniless sailor, a wealthy gangster, and a woman they both battle for. The musical number is the aforementioned “the rehearsal” with songs by Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, etc. and Sonya Tayeh’s out of this world athletic choreography. This happens at the top of Act II, at the matinee when the number finished it was met with rousing and enthusiastic round of applause. After the show I went for a bite and reflected on what I saw, and read my notes, and saw where I kept referring “Where’s Bollywood?”. I was 95% thrilled with what I had just seen on stage, except the loss of that number. Was I being overly critical due to my intense love for this film? I thoroughly enjoyed what they created to replace Bollywood with. I had another chance to see it in two hours.
At the evening performance the audience was TEN times more excited and hyper than the matinee crowd and you could clearly see the cast feed off from it. When it came to “The Rehearsal” number, I cleared my thoughts and accepted the creative team’s vision and interpretation. The second viewing it was much more visually enthralling, intoxicating, erotic, and just put goose bumps on my arms. The lighting, choreography, that magnificent ensemble, the orchestrations and mixing of the songs, and the ending of the rising staircase! OMG! When they finished, the audience screamed-including myself-screamed! I think my ear drums burst. The audience would not stop screaming, applauding, whistling, and cheering. I could hear the upper balconies and they were pounding their feet on the floor. It lasted for several minutes-I kid you not! The ensemble just stood there basking in this love from the audience. This was longest applause of the night and that ensemble richly deserved it. Conclusion: at first, I missed the omission of the Bollywood number, but with what they replaced it with, is just as good-and if you see it with this original ensemble, you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones!
This sensual, vigorous, tour de force ensemble is comprised of Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Joe Carroll, Max Clayton, Robyn Hurder, Holly James, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Khori Michelle Petinaud, Benjamin Rivera, and Connor Wince.
Robyn Hurder (Nini), Jacqueline B. Arnold (La Chocolat), Holly James (Arabia), and Jeigh Madjus (Baby Doll) open the show with the Patti LaBelle classic hit “Lady Marmalade” with massive pop/soul vocals and harmonies that just explode the theater with vocal power. Dressed in corsets, thigh high hose, and heels these ladies werk that runway for all its worth. Ms. Arnold’s work is familiar to me as I had seen her do a fantastic job in the national tour of We Will Rock You.
In the film version The Duke of Monroth was portrayed as a clueless, spineless buffoon with a horrible overbite. For the stage he has become an incredibly gorgeous, but sadistic, aristocrat portrayed by Tam Mutu. His chemistry with Karen Olivo (Satine) is lascivious but at times has a subtext of this strange but sincere love that the Duke has for her, which gives a complex, yet dynamic relationship to them throughout the evening. Mutu is remarkable in this role. His first big solo is the Rolling stones classic, “Sympathy For The Devil” which he delivers with great machismo. This immediately segues him into a mash up with Olivo of two duets from the Rolling Stones canon, “You Can't Always Get What You Want/ Gimme Shelter”. His cruelty and power over Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein) and Satine are at times frightening, and Mutu’s second Act scene work is disturbing on how he controls them. Mutu’s performance is exceptional!
Sahr Ngaujah, who earned a Tony Award nod for Fela! is Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, but wisely does not try to resemble his physical stature. Ngaujah has a wonderful sense of comedic timing which served him throughout the musical where he had some of the best gut busting laughs of the evening. Ngaujah’s Lautrec in Logan’s book has a more personal history with Satine, thus gave his touching ballad, “Nature’s Boy” so much more emotional strength and subtext. In Act II after drinking lots of Absinthe and they are in a green haze, Ngaujah leads Christian (Aaron Tveit) and Santiago (Ricky Rojas) in a fantastic trio with peerless harmonies of Sia’s “Chandelier".
Suave and handsome Ricky Rojas is the lothario Argentinean Santiago but is not a narcoleptic as portrayed in the film. Rojas and Ngaujah make a perfect duo from their first scene at a café on the streets in Paris when they first meet Christian (Tveit). Rojas gyrates his hips that had the audience guffawing in laughter. Rojas leads vocally the show stopping number that opens Act II that begins with Lady GaGa’s “Bad Romance”. His romantic interest is the seductive Robyn Hurder as Nini, and they are a hysterical couple.
With all the sequins and dazzle, and all that talent, the scene stealer of the evening is none other than Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler. I’ve had the immense pleasure to see his work on Broadway in Follies, Titanic, and The Drowsy Chaperone. His performance as Zidler could be his crowning achievement. The book has created Zidler as a gay man who now has a much deeper and personal relationship with Satine than in the film. Burstein’s energy is explosive when he is “on” as the showman, selling us his Moulin Rouge, his Dolls and calling the audience his Kittens. His comedic timing, pace and delivery is unprecedented and the best of the evening. The man knows how to bring down a house! Sweet lord wait till you see the book scene in Act II that Burstein has. That is a master working at his craft in comedic acting. But Logan’s superb book give’s Burstein equal dramatic weight as well. Zidler is not all glitter and showmanship. His dark side of pushing Satine into the Duke’s arms at whatever cost for example. There is a moment of pure guilt that flashes on Burstein’s face in Satine’s chamber that he knows what he is doing is wrong, but he still goes through it. A heartbreaking scene happens between Olivo and Burstein, but you will have to discover it on your own. One of Burstein’s best numbers is the rousing “Shake it Out” By Florence and the Machine, which he sings with Olivo, Jacqueline B. Arnold (La Chocolat), Holly James (Arabia), and Jeigh Madjus (Baby Doll). Their harmonies are lush, and the orchestrations for the song are stunning. His scene work with Tam Mutu as the Duke are also outstanding to watch, as two powerful men battle it out. In all honesty, Burstein’s performance even outshines Jim Broadbent’s work in the film. Burstein has received six Tony award nominations, when Moulin Rouge lands on Broadway, this role will demand that they award him finally that Tony for Best Featured Actor in A Musical, period.
When Satine first appeared down from the rafters and Karen Olivo stood less than five inches away from me in an exquisite full beaded crystal red gown it dawned on me, and I choked back tears. Olivo was born in New York, her father is Puerto Rican and Native American descent, and her mother is of Dominican and Chinese descent. And here she is, the lead in of the most anticipated new musicals heading to Broadway. As a Latino actor/ Latin American we do not see this hardly ever-if at all. Which is one of our own in leading role in a part that really isn’t written for our color. A moment to treasure. This was my third time to see Olivo’s work on stage, having seen her on Broadway in her Tony award winning performance in West Side Story and in the musical Brooklyn. As Satine, Olivo has her first lead and it gives her full range to display all her superlative talents. She avoids Nicole Kidman’s celluloid performance, which was the right decision. It should be her own voice, heart, and soul pouring out of the sparkling diamond. And what a voice it is! For her first number the genius music arranger/orchestrator Justin Levine crafted for her a mind-blowing medley of the James Bond theme “Diamonds are Forever”, from the musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”, Madonna’s “Material Girl”, and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”. Can we say showstopper?!
But where Olivo stole every heart in the audience was her vocal strength and emotional attack to the lyrics of Katie Perry’s hit “Firework”. But here Arranger Justin Levine changed the tempo and orchestrations of the song with piano, cello, and violins. It became an absolutely beautiful ballad. Olivo would vocally build into the song until she belted to the very back, transforming this song (and dramatic book scene it was placed in) into a compelling and poignant ballad. The audience responded back with a thunderous ear-splitting applause.
Karen Olivo’s Satine is sensual, coy, sybaritic, but never a slut. She knows its business. Her chemistry with the men in her life shows exactly how smart she is and how protective she is of her heart and soul. Olivo’s voice has never sounded better and her numbers take those fierce vocal pipes all over the music genre: rock, pop, disco, soul, funk, and Broadway power ballad. But her acting craft is matchless and organic. She consumes herself so deeply within her subtext it is heartbreaking to observe. Her second act work alone will grip your heart and will not let it go. Ms. Olivo is the breakout performance of production and will be the one audiences will not stop talking about when they leave the theater. She is indeed the sparkling diamond.
Aaron Tveit as Christian delivers a striking and commanding performance. His stage presence is electrifying without a doubt. Tveit connected wonderfully with his Bohemian brothers Rojas and Ngaujah. The three of them with the ensemble do a brilliant job with the medley of “Children of the Revolution / We are Young”. Tveit’s first big solo is a major moment from the film, Elton John’s “Your Song”, and he does not disappoint. His sublime tenor vocals weave around the piano composition to create his own version of this well-known world hit, and it is stellar.
His best solo of the evening is of course ‘Roxanne” by the Police, backed by the extraordinary choreography of tango dancers and lighting effects. Tveit’s vocals go full rock as he belts and soars to unbelievable notes within the song. There was a moment in the staging involving him, Satine, The Duke, and the Tango Dancers that all I can say is that it will put chills down your spine! Tveit brings down the walls with his vocal fire of this classic Police hit. It was a tour-de-force vocal performance! Tveit (like Olivo) completely understands his subtext and allows it to ebb and bleed out no matter how calamitous and raw it is. His emotional scenes were deeply honest, organic, real, and had many in the audience in tears. He was sensational!
Oh, and the famous “Elephant medley” that Olivo and Tveit sing that is in the movie? It’s there. What they do staging wise with sets, costumes, and the new music. You will have to see it. That’s all I will say.
Olivo and Tveit had intense, aphrodisiac, romantic yet combative chemistry. You could see these two had a connection the second they set eyes on each other but battled to keep this attraction from going further. But once that infatuation turned to passion and love you saw their chemistry burn. These two actors displayed that chemistry vividly. The payoff was at the end as we saw their hearts crack open.
Finally, Olivo and Tveit do have the best duets within this spectacular score. There is the famous “Come What May”, which they have altered the orchestrations and vocals to allow these two power belters to sing to the rafters. But the duet that had the audience screaming and cheering midway through the song was the mash up of “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”. Because of the scene of the new book where this song is set, this mash up slid in emotionally so perfectly. Both Olivo and Tveit are singing with raw pain, tears pouring from their eyes, the orchestra pounding the music with heart thumping strength to a crescendo that I thought my heart was going to explode. The audience went berserk screaming, applauding, and cheering.
According to published sources the entire company has been signed on to move onto Broadway. But when? Like a congested New York Tunnel, there are several new shows trying already to book theaters all over Broadway. The problem is there isn’t very many empty theaters around. Also, MOULIN ROUGE is a BIG musical, so you can’t just put this in a tiny, intimate space. Rumor has it they will be on Broadway in late 2019. The remarkable thing is, the creative team don’t have much to fix. A tweak here and there is all that is needed.
As a perfectionist and faithful fan to the original film, the creative team have done the impossible, they not only respected the original, but they have updated the material (book, music, characters) and they enhanced the original. This is NOT a jukebox musical by ANY means. It has broken those chains and the very definition of what a jukebox musical is. MOULIN ROUGE! The Musical will break new ground, as it is something so new and so different, something that Broadway audiences have not seen before. It defies to be labeled or boxed in.
When MOULIN ROUGE! The Musical reaches Broadway they will not be ready for what they are about to experience. It has become one of the best new musicals that I have seen in the last fifteen years. As the lyric goes in "The Pitch song", “It will run for 50 years!".... Oh I think it just might Kittens! It just might!
MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL!
Music- various, Lyrics-various. Book- John Logan
Pre-Broadway / Out of Town Engagement
Emerson Colonial Theatre, Boston, Massachusetts
THROUGH AUGUST 19, 2018
For tickets: http://www.emersoncolonialtheatre.com/calendar/moulin-rouge-the-musical/