How the Al Hirschfeld Theatre becomes a Parisian nightclub in 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical'
The head-to-toe transformation of the venue whisks you into the Broadway show's world the moment you arrive.
Harold Zidler says in Moulin Rouge! The Musical, "The Moulin Rouge is a state of mind." The movie that bears the iconic French nightclub's name, and now the Broadway musical adaptation, have taken that to heart. Thanks to their equally sumptuous productions, the words "Moulin Rouge" have come to be associated with glitz and glamour, high energy and even higher kicks, and love that conquers all (it's set in Paris, the City of Love, after all!).
But before you even get a taste of the story of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, about the forbidden romance between the writer Christian and the courtesan Satine at the title club, it's the venue that takes you into this splendorous, euphoric world. Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre, where the 10-time Tony Award-winning musical has played since 2019, has been transformed into the Moulin Rouge from head to toe. With themed decor greeting you from the minute you step into the door, you'll already feel like you're a club regular before the show even begins.
The on- and offstage transformation of the venue guarantees that Moulin Rouge! The Musical isn't just a show — it's an experience. Read more about how the show engulfs you into its world from the start, and then get your tickets to see this spectacular spectacular for yourself.
The entertainment begins even before the opening number.
Make sure you get to the theatre early for the Moulin Rouge! The Musical pre-show! About 15 minutes before the show starts, you'll be asked to put your phones away, as the performers start to appear on the stage. The dancing and singing don't start in earnest at this point, but you'll see the actors do a little choreography on and around the set. Other performers simply walk the stage, interact with each other, and check out the audience.
The pre-show gives the theatre the feel of a nightclub, with patrons and performers actively mixing and mingling as you arrive to join in. And it's not just the ensemble on stage at this point — some of the lead actors appear in the pre-show, too. Keep an eye out to see if you can spot them before they make their "official" entrances!
The club's iconic symbols have been recreated.
The most famous symbol of the Moulin Rouge nightclub itself, along with the movie and musical, is the red windmill that sits atop the building and gives the club its name. ("Moulin rouge" means "red windmill" in French.) So there's no way the Broadway show could leave it out. It's likely one of the first things you'll notice — the gigantic replica sits to the left of the stage, perched in its own box where seats would normally be, with its panels turning like a real windmill.
Another symbol associated with the Moulin Rouge, especially thanks to the movie, is the elephant. The real Moulin Rouge club has an elephant statue in its garden, and in the movie and musical, Satine's dressing room is inside a structure shaped like one. That's why the Act 1-closing romantic duet with Christian is titled "Elephant Love Medley"! Only the inside of the dressing room is recreated on stage, but look to the right of the stage, in the box across from the windmill, and you'll see an equally massive, semi-realistic elephant's head adorned with tassels. (If you're sitting in the right mezzanine, it might feel as though it's looking back at you, too.)
Plus, during scenes that take place in a building outside the Moulin Rouge, smaller renderings of the windmill and the elephant can be visible in the background. Look out for them during the show!
Finally, a replica of the sign out front bearing the Moulin Rouge! name hangs over the stage when you enter (in case there's any confusion about where you are). When the sign rises, you know you've officially entered the club, and the show's about to begin.
The lavish design reaches every corner of the theatre.
The windmill and the elephant already spill beyond the stage, but set designer Derek McLane didn't stop there. Nearly every inch of the theatre was modified to transform it into the Parisian club; McLane took inspiration from other Parisian clubs from the time period, as well as artist Toulouse-Lautrec's famous artwork of the real Moulin Rouge. (Toulouse-Lautrec is also a character in the musical!)
McLane built railings out of plaster and covered them in gold leaf, with cherubs and windmills carved into them. You'll see these railings right below the windmill and the elephant, and in the balconies beside them where the performers dance during some numbers. Gold columns were built, too, to match the railings.
The walls were covered in red velvet, which also drapes from the ceilings alongside chandeliers and twinkling lights, immersing every seating section in the world of the Moulin Rouge. No matter where you sit in the theatre, you'll be near at least one of McLane's design elements, and you'll feel like you're front row at the nightclub.
The onstage set pays homage to the Moulin Rouge! movie.
Not only will you feel like a real French nightclub has come to life, but you'll experience the movie come to life, right down to the design. The can-can dancers in the movie perform underneath heart-shaped panels, which McLane recreated for the musical. As panels move on and off the stage, revealing even more behind them, you'll feel like you're going deeper and deeper inside the club.
The window of Satine's dressing room, which looks out over Paris, is also heart-shaped. It's fitting that hearts factor so heavily into the set of a show about truth, beauty, freedom, and love!
With so much going on in all corners of the theatre, though, from the onstage sets to the windmill high up to the side to the ceiling decorations, every seat will transport you into turn-of-the-century France. Moulin Rouge! The Musical isn't by definition an "immersive" show, as you're not actually taking part in the action. But for a few hours, you've totally traded the city for the show's lush, romantic, bohemian world. How wonderful life is when you're in that world.
Top image credit: Monique Carboni
Originally published on