In 2002 Baz Luhrmann, the idiosyncratic Australian film and theatre director, brought his stunning 1990 Opera Australia production of Puccini's La Bohème from Sydney Opera House to Broadway, a tale of a consumptive heroine and her bohemian friends living in rooftop Parisian digs. Now 17 years later, we're back in similar territory for this bedazzling stage transition of Luhrmann's 2001 film "Moulin Rouge!," which underlines just how much La Bohème inspired it -- an opera that also provided the source for Rent, which was set in 1990s New York.
Broadway is now (over)populated by jukebox musicals -- current attractions include shows devoted to The Temptations, Carole King and Cher, with a transfer of Tina - The Tina Turner Musical from the West End due to arrive in October, plus new musicals based on albums by Alanis Morissette (Jagged Little Pill) and David Byrne (American Utopia) also planning Broadway engagements in October and November, respectively. But Moulin Rouge! The Musical is in a league of originality and creativity all of its own; with a song stack of some 70 pop hits from the 40s to the present day, it is the ultimate jukebox show, encompassing Elton John, Sting and Katy Perry, the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Bob Dylan and even Rodgers and Hammerstein, amongst numerous others.
Of course, many of those songs are only heard in the briefest of snatches; in one duet between Satine, the courtesan nightclub performer and Christian, the visiting American writer who stumbles into her life and falls unexpectedly in love with her, there are quotations from some 25 separate songs.
Part of the immense musical fun of the evening is spotting all these goodies, even if there's a bit of an accompanying frustration that comparatively few of them are heard in full. Musical supervisor and orchestrator Justin Levine does a heroic job of marshalling them all into a cohesive, playful whole, and book writer John Logan folds them brilliantly into the plot so that they all serve a narrative as well as presentational purpose.
But if the show is both tireless and at times relentless in shoehorning so much material into it, director Alex Timbers, his choreographer Sonya Tayeh and his designers Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Justin Townsend (lighting) and Peter Hylenski (sound) turn it into an eye-popping spectacle that is full of sensory overload.
The transportation to another world occurs even before the show begins, as you enter the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, beguilingly transformed into the spectacular nightclub of the title. The Moulin Rouge's famous external windmill turns stage right; a giant blue elephant (which contains Santine's rooftop dressing room) is stage left. Dancers perform languorous cage dance routines and prowl the stage long before the lights dim and the club's MC and owner Harold Zidler (the buoyant and brilliant Danny Burstein) set the stage show off.
But as with Kander and Ebb's 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret, the vividly-recreated floorshow is only a backdrop to a more personal story of a desperate, ill-fated love affair that unfolds in its anchoring shadows. Spectacle may always be to the fore in this production, but against all the vigour there's also rigour in the beautiful ache that Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo bring to Christian and Satine's relationship.
In a crowded Broadway market place, Moulin Rouge is a show that has it all: it's not just 70 songs that are rolled into one show, but also a canvas of spectacle and emotion that isn't just a floorshow but left me floored with its sublime artistry.
(Photo by Matthew Murphy)
"This one’s for the hedonists. All you party people should know that the Al Hirschfeld Theater has been refurbished as an opulent pleasure palace, wherein decadence comes without hangovers. That’s where the euphoric Moulin Rouge! The Musical opened on Thursday night in a shower of fireworks, confetti and glittering fragments of what feels like every pop hit ever written."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Red alert! Red alert! If you’re the kind of person who frets that jukebox musicals are taking over Broadway, prepare to tilt at the windmill that is the gorgeous, gaudy, spectacularly overstuffed Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Directed with opulent showmanship by Alex Timbers, this adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie may be costume jewelry, but its shine is dazzling."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Who needs ecstasy when we’ve got Moulin Rouge!? That’s the effect of the fabulous new musical that opened Thursday night on Broadway: raucous sensory overload. From its sexy sword swallowers to the newly pumped-up pop songbook and from-the-loins dancing, the show’s as subtle as Liberace’s toy poodle: a glitter bomb on Broadway."
Johnny Oleksinski for New York Post
"Moulin Rouge! was Baz Luhrmann at his most brashly baroque, a shameless pop-cultural magpie molding equal parts kitsch, cool and cliché into a rhapsodic dream. The giddy 2001 screen collision of soaring romance and dazzling artifice helped resuscitate the movie musical. Stage director Alex Timbers and the creative team on this delirious theatrical reinvention take those Luhrmann impulses and run with them, crafting a gaudy and gorgeous jukebox pastiche in which eye-popping spectacle, off-the-charts energy and almost non-stop musical mashups provide the plush padding for a featherweight plot."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter
"As in the film, the plot is yet another tragic story of mismatched lovers, inspired by everything from Carmen to La Dame aux Camélias. But I’m not sick of it, and nor should you be. Tales about true love transcending divergent social origins and personal destinies never go out of fashion."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety