Moulin Rouge – The Musical Review WITH spoilers, so be warned By Kevin Lasit 2018
Updated: Jun 20
Allow me to set the stage: the year is 2001. The cinema is replete with a few hits like Amelie, Black Hawk Down, Monster’s Ball, A Beautiful Mind, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings…wow, pretty impressive year for films. Then there were the duds like Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes, Pearl Harbor, Tomb Raider. Excuse me while I puke.
Then magic happened. Something unique hit the cinema. A movie so ahead of its time with its fast-paced cuts, bold and daring characters that danced the line of outlandish cartoons, but then hits you over the head with deep, profound emotion…and in a word, fills you with - LOVE! Moulin Rouge, directed by Baz Luhrmann, and written by Mr. Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, is still, to this day, a cinematic gift and is a flawless LOVE story. My wife and I were elated to see musicals back on the big screen, and even in 2001, we were waiting for the news of the release of a Broadway adaptation of this wondrous film. Who knew we would have to wait seventeen years later for Moulin Rouge – The Musical?! You can imagine the excitement, when we discovered the news, and now we have two children who we’ve introduced the film to, so it’s even more special to us.
Now fast forward to the summer of 2018. From the moment we walked into the newly renovated Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston, the energy was palpable. By the way, the makeover was breathtaking with its ornate chandeliers and decorative artwork. The theatre is very comfortable, intimate, and every seat is a great seat. I purchased a Green Fairy cocktail for $24! I never do that, but come on! It was called the Green Fairy, and this was Moulin Rouge – the Musical! Then we walked into the threshold of the theatre and BAMB… there it was in all its glory… the Moulin Rouge! Pretty spectacular. If you’ve never been to Paris, that’s okay, because it’s right smackdab in front of you, all the detail, from the red spinning windmill, to the Blue Elephant. The set, glorious in all its spectacle, with its lavish red, seductive flashing lights, large heart archway, and various platform levels. Certain cast members would slink around the stage, taunting audience members. Impressive. A few years ago, I had taken my family to Paris, and we spent the day exploring the Montmartre Hills, including showing our kids the real Moulin Rouge. It was a magical moment for my family, not only historical, but for the cinematic history as well. This is where the fictional bohemian writer, “Christian,” falls head over heels in LOVE with the courtesan, Satine. Even though we all know it was only a movie… it was a major highlight of our vacation, and now here we were, in Boston, gazing at the Moulin Rouge in a theatre! Our minds were blown away. I love the magic of theatre. I leaned to my family, “I have a feeling this is going to be amazing,” I said grinning from ear to ear sipping my $24 Green Fairy Cocktail. Little did I know, I should have gotten a triple shot.
Then the production started.
We were prepared that things may be different due to the translation from screen to stage, but a LOVE story is still a LOVE story… right? The musical started with Lady Marmalade. Fair enough, it’s a crowd pleaser; why not give it to the audience right away. The choreography, by Sonya Tayeh, was exactly what one would expect from Lady Marmalade, lots of titillating gyrations, no pun intended. It was a great way to kick the show off. It definitely got the crowd excited. Then Christian, played by Aaron Tveit, (wonderful actor) starts to tell the story… the story we all know so well and LOVE dearly. A LOVE story we’ve waited for seventeen years to see on stage! I was surprised to see the deadpan, non-attached interpretation Aaron Tveit delivered when he spoke about his dead lover. It really threw me off. This is a tragic LOVE story and when the character, Christian, speaks about losing the LOVE of his LIFE… that should be unbearable words to utter. We all know Aaron Tveit is a great actor, so his interpretation must have come from the director, Alex Timbers. I can almost hear it now, “No, no, no my dear, this isn’t the movie. Don’t play the ending. I don’t want the audience to be sad at the start of my show. Keep it detached, Honey. As a matter of fact, whenever you break the fourth-wall just give the audience information. No emotion at all! You’re a storyteller. Satine’s been long dead. Just talk. This is for the stage!” I can only guess that’s what Mr. Timbers told him, because why would any intelligent actor make a decision like that? WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
Christian is in LOVE with Satine, and we, the audience, need to feel that passion from the start. It sets the tone for the entire production… or the lack there of. That moment simply made my eyebrow curl up and tilt my head like a dog being taught a new trick. A very difficult trick.
The first gut-cringing, bone-crushing moment came in Satine’s room during the Elephant Love Medley, you know, that perfect architecture of a medley that coveys their LOVE for each other???
It sadly becomes a “name that tune” moment cluttering the song with as many contemporary pop songs just to evoke a reaction from the audience, “AWW… I know that song!” Or just for laughs! I’m sorry, Michael Aarons, just because you can cram sixty songs into this moment and get the audience to react doesn’t equate to quality. After the first minute of this ridiculous, butchered, cluster f@#k medley, it simply grows redundant. Redundant. Redundant. Redundant. (See what I did there?) Don’t mess with perfection. Why did they change this??? Now I completely understand that some things will be updated or retooled, but the story should NOT be sacrificed. When you watch a favorite movie at home, you know what to expect and even though you may know the story like the back of your hand, you so appreciate all the “feels” it still gives you. Sadly, the creators of this Musical translation, didn’t give a rat’s ass about the old “feels.”
Things get worse from the writer, John Logan, of James Bond fame and Alien- Covenant screenwriter. Mr. Logan completely changes the integrity and arch of The Duke. He makes The Duke a “real villain,” meaning a cliché “Now you listen here…” kind of a baddy, and by the end of the scene, The Duke actually sleeps with Satine. That’s right! He has sex with Satine in ACT 1!
WRONG! (Insert game show buzz sound effect! Thanks for playing.)
Who approved this? That changes everything!!!!!
Writing 101: The Duke never “loved” Satine!
He just wanted to have sex and be done with her. In the film, Satine never gives in and tells him he will have to wait until opening night which makes The Duke obsess over her. He MUST have her! But it was never about LOVE for The Duke, but in Mr. Logan’s adaptation, directed by Alex Timbers, The Duke has sex with her in ACT 1, AND makes plans for their wedding!!!!!! WHAT?!?!?!?!????????
I knew from this fatal flaw in structure, ACT 2 was in serious trouble, and if theatre is like watching a football game, this is when I threw myself down from my seat with my hands in my face, just shaking my head, “Why, dear LORD? WHY?” I dejectedly whispered to myself. “This can’t be happening!”
I immediately thought, “What about the number Roxanne? How are they going to save that number?” You see, this tragic LOVE story is built upon tension. In the original source material, The Duke is getting more worked up as Christian and Satine fall more deeply in LOVE behind the scenes. Matter of fact, Satine hasn’t slept with ANYONE ELSE since meeting Christian (in the film). She is reborn through her innocent LOVE for Christian. Finally, The Duke will have his way with Satine and orders her to have dinner with him (so he can nail her. Again – it’s not about LOVE), and this drives Christian MAD with jealously. But in this haphazard production, The Duke has been having sex with Satine since fricken ACT 1, and she’s still having sex with Christian. Where’s the tension in that???? WHERE???
And because “Mr. James Bond writer” made The Duke “A real Villain,” The clowns of this production took out “Like a Virgin,” replacing it with a spin on the Rolling Stones, “Sympathy for the Duke.”. I guess the production team overlooked Satine’s newly cleansed, virginal through-line since falling in LOVE with Christian. That’s why Like a Virgin works for The Duke. The Duke is NOT a “Mr. Big” hack from a James Bond flick. When The Duke is played like a blooming idiot (in the film) we almost sympathize with him… almost, and that’s good writing.
The heated number, Roxanne, in ACT 2, is basically screwed from this mess and blind direction, and to add more salt to the wound, Mr. Logan decides to add ANOTHER LOVE story on top of Satine’s and Christian’s LOVE story. NO! NO! NO! I’m sorry. In THIS tragic LOVE story there is only ONE LOVE story and that’s between Satine and Christian, shame on the entire production team for allowing this. This is how the number, Roxanne, is introduced. “Not one, but two love stories.” Come on! What is this? A high school talent show at best?
And to all you dancers out there, Roxanne is not an authentic Tango like it was in the movie version. It starts out in that style, but then, Sonya Tayeh takes liberty and throws in lyrical and jazz moves. Dear Lord in Heaven! Who approved these decisions? It works as a straight tango!!! It should be about heat, passion, loss, and jealousy!! That is the entire tone of the film version. The entire tone of the stage production was extremely clear to me by this point…. Spectacle. That’s all the creative team cared about. Razzle and dazzle them. Now, mind you, the cast was extremely talented… but the production was so far removed from the original source material they could have easily called the musical something else; Moulin Rouge -Another Love Story. The creative team was too busy filling the theatre with spectacle they ignored the root of the powerful story.
I’m sorry Mouiln Rougue – The Musical, there are six elements to creating quality drama and “spectacle” is only one of them. You should have had Aristotle’s Six Elements tattooed on your arm while you were launching this barroom, karaoke production.
(I have to end this. My blood pressure is rising. Two more hits and I’m out: LOL)
The amazing source material has a couple of original songs, Come What May, and One Day I’ll Fly Away, and guess what? One Day I’ll Fly Away, this amazing song is cut from this musical and replaced with Katy Perry’s Firework!
Firework!??? Are you kidding me?
Just writing that sentence is laughable, but I so wanted to cry. In the film, Satine sings One Day I’ll Fly Away and it’s breathtaking and heartbreaking to watch. She dreams of a better life. A life with real LOVE. But on stage, when Satine sings Firework, it sure did get audience members to react, “AHHH! So funny!” WRONG! This is NOT supposed to be funny! Wake up! But the audience drank the Green Fairy cool aid. (LOL!!!)
Now what about the master of ceremonies, Mr. Harold Zidler? In true fashion, Mr. Logan made HIM the blooming idiot which is laughable. Long short, Zidler’s character gets caught up in three beats with a predictable gag about wanting a real prop to threaten Christian’s character in the play within the play. Again, this is all wrong, but the audience laughed at the bit. Zidler is the showman when on stage, but extremely calculating and in control behind the scenes… WHY? BECAUSE HE MAY LOSE THE DEED TO THE MOUILN ROUGUE! That’s why! He shouldn’t give a crap about having a prop knife. He needs to save the Moulin Rouge!
Believe it or not, it has more horrific moments, and the only two things this production got right were the “spectacle” and the “tragedy” of screwing up the great source material, epic fail on so many levels. With amazing source material that is handed to them on a gold platter, this production should have left us all floored, but instead the masses leave talking about the spectacle, and all the great pop songs they could identity, that, instead of sobbing and sitting in your seat floored from the tragic LOVE story.
We were so excited about this production. We had so much hope. How could it go wrong? Ego and too many cooks in the kitchen, I’m guessing. I heard people were traveling from across the country to see this premiere. It was such a disappointing experience, but it just goes to show you, just because you attract talented people to a project, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a hit that will last a lifetime. If you were to take away that amazing set, the lighting, and costumes…. then the general audience would notice the horrible book, dismal arrangements and confused direction. But what do I know, right? It’s just my opinion. Take the money and run.
So yes, the sets were “spectacular, spectacular,” costumes and lighting were all top-notch, but what’s missing is the heart of the story which was so strong and clear in the film. If you are a purest, stick with the movie, save your money and time. Don’t let this horribly staged, money-grab ruin the memory of the film, Moulin Rouge. Again, it’s so disappointing because they already had a solid structure to follow and they messed with it. I’m sure it will find its audience and make a shit load of money, but the question is… 50 years from now, will people still be in awe with it? I seriously doubt it. I’d recommend you see Jagged Little Pill instead.