Moulin Rouge in the Me Too Era: A Broadway Review
“And there’s no mountain too high
No river too wide
Sing out this song and I’ll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather
And stars may collide
But I love you
Until the end of time” ~ Come What May ~ Moulin Rouge
Finally I Saw-Saw-Saw
I was incredibly excited to see Moulin Rouge, especially knowing the producers, theatre management, and many of the actors, (yes I am biased) but that excitement quickly gave way to dismay when I realized I was moving just a couple weeks before previews were to began at the Al Hirshfeld. Having seen some of the behind the scenes of pre-production and rehearsal, I knew it was going to be a spectacular and their was a high chance, I was going to miss it.
Of course I cannot quit New York. And the moment I knew I was going to be visiting a couple weeks ago, I knew come hell or selling kidneys, I needed to see it. Thankfully I have friends in high places, so no kidneys needed to be sold. And yes it was everything I expected it to be and more!
Based on Baz Lurhmann’s 2001 movie of the same name, The Broadway musical follows Christian, a writer, who arrives in the Montmarte district of Paris where he meets a group of Bohemians including the charming rogue Toulouse. Hoping to have his work seen and produced, they go to the Moulin Rouge which is facing financial hardship. Toulouse arranges for Christian to meet the head courtesan and star, Satine.
The owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler, has his own plan to present Satine to the Duke of Monroth in hopes that he will be so enamored with her and provide financial backing to the club. In a series of events, Satine mistakenly thinks Christian is the Duke, and she brings him back to her dressing room where sparks fly before they are caught by the real duke who is not happy and they quickly improvise, pitching a show to him, which the duke then agrees to back. As they rehearse Satine and Christian fall deeper in love and Satine has to choose between wealth and security. Or love.
I admit when the movie came out, I was not a fan. Nothing against Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, but vocally they were weak and it detracted from the movie. Yet, everything seems to be better on Broadway and I knew this show would shine, especially after listening to the cast recording on repeat since July.
Acting and Singing
While Moulin Rouge follows the plot of the movie, it is unapologetically its own musical. And that is very apparent in Karen Olivo’s version of Satine who is no wilting flower. She is not a weak woman who is forced into prostitution by circumstance, instead she is strong, business savvy, and logical. While she might be considered coquettish, she uses it to her advantage, to further not just her career, but that of her friend Harold Zidler’s business. While she is not on stage nearly as much as I would like, each scene she is in, is incredibly impactful, which only furthers the allure and power of Satine.
I knew Aaron Tveit could sing, I had no idea he could sing like THIS. His portrayal of Christian ran the gambit of emotion, without being annoying or weak like his movie counter-part came across and that might be in part to his voice. The moment he opened his mouth to sing, I was instantly transported to another realm. Tveit’s vocals are pure ecstasy, and I could listen to him non-stop.
While this show has big names, it seems like everyone is a star. The ensemble is equally as strong and engaging as Olivo and Tveit are on stage. The chemistry and friendship between company members translates to the stage. The choreography is intense and intricate and yet you can tell the actors are having a blast singing, dancing, and just doing what they love to do which makes it a fun experience as an audience member.
Both Sahr Ngaujah and Tam Mutu who play Toulouse and The Duke of Monroth respectively, were surprise hits. As much as I wanted to hate the Duke, Mutu’s voice and deliciously autocratic presence on stage wouldn’t let me. He was devilishly debonair and while I shouldn’t have liked him, I couldn’t help, but wanting to see more of him. Ngaujah on the other hand was not just likable but incredibly lovable. He did just play the supporting role of being Christian’s best friend, side kick, and matchmaker, but was his own star entertaining the audience. “Truth Beauty Freedom Love” was one of my favorite numbers in the show.
Another surprise was Harold Zidler, played by Danny Bernstein. The day I saw the show, his understudy, Kevyn Morrow was on. In the movie Zidler could be considered just as controlling and manipulative as The Duke of Montroth, yet, further distinguishing itself from its cinematic counterpart, the Broadway version portrays a much more forgiving, kind and compassionate Harold Zidler who cares about his courtesans. He and Satine are more partners, scheming together to get money from the Duke and he is devastated when he realizes she is dying. I am unsure if this was just Morrow’s portrayal, but it fell in line with the shows underlying messages and I loved watching him on stage.
Moulin Rouge and Me Too
In many ways it seems like Moulin Rouge is the antithesis in this Me Too era. Once you look past the glittery sets and catchy songs, you realize it is not a story that is forgiving to women. Underneath the love story, a prostitute is taken advantage of by men, used and abused by them, and then (spoiler) she dies does not make for that feel good storyline or happy ending people crave. It isn’t empowering and in a country like the States where prostitution is still stigmatized and prosecuted it can seem downright scandalizing despite hoping we have moved into more modern and accepting times.
While the movie capitalized on preconceived stereotypes, hyped up cattiness and exploited a profession and womanhood, the musical shuts all that down. Instead of seeking to demean or even ignore the issues, many of which are prevalent today, it tackles them while still being entertaining. Satine and the other courtesans aren’t being forced to sell their bodies, they are choosing too. THEY are in control, and Satine makes that abundantly clear when she attempts to seduce the duke, and again with her internal conflict of love or business.
Satine and these women are taking control of their destiny. They are breaking down barriers of body objectification while still owning their sexuality and reveling in their bodies, which are all beautifully and uniquely different. Women don’t have to hide, nor be covered up. Nor are we all competitive catty bitches. In the movie a major subplot showcased a rivalry between Satine and another courtesan, Nini (played by Robyn Hurder) who eventually tells the Duke about Satine’s relationship with Christian. The musical all but erases that, emphasizing the bond between these women rather then dissension. That isn’t to say their cannot be envy which is natural and after realizing Satine is dying, Nini tells her that she has been jealous of Satine, but it is because she has always admired her.
The Set and Costumes
In an era where Broadway is moving to more digitized backdrops and minimalism, Moulin Rouge is incredibly decadent and glam. How could it not be, having been based off of Baz Lurhmann’s movie, a director known for his intense showcase of special effects. Designed by Derek McLane, the set is not just limited to the stage but extends out into the Al Hershfeld, letting the audience feel like they are part of the glitz and glam. And it is glamorous. There is a larger then life elephant as well as a replica of the symbolic windmill that sits atop the real Moulin Rouge in Paris. Sets etched in gold, and hues of red throughout the house give the theatre goer a true Broadway experience, and maybe just a little taste of Paris in New York.
With the musical’s subject matter, the costumes could easily have resembled a Victoria Secret fashion show. Instead they are as sensual as they are fashionable. Thought was put into each design and it shows, creating a world of glitz and glam, while still being artfully sexy. These outfits aren’t designed to denude women, or even the men, but to empower and showcase the beauty and strength they have especially as they gracefully move about the stage. They seamlessly straddle the line of classy and sexy, molding the two effortlessly and wishing they were in my closet.
More More More
Close to three hours long, (with a fifteen minute intermission) it honestly didn’t feel long enough. Not because it lacked substance, but because I was so entertained, it flew by. I admit I am not always a fan of jukebox musicals, and Moulin Rouge was admittedly not my favorite movie, yet this show took all the positives from both and created a mesmerizing, intoxicating, dazzling show that I never wanted to end.
For a true Broadway experience, this is the show to see. It is not the movie, but is so, SO much better in my opinion. From the insanely talented cast (perhaps the most talented currently on Broadway) to the music which molded old and new songs, to the sets and choreography, it is a true spectacle in the absolute best way. Instead of leaving sad, I left uplifted, which honestly really is the bohemian way, isn’t it?
Have you seen Moulin Rouge: The Musical? Are you a fan of the movie?