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Review: ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical ‘arrives Pantages

Review: ‘Moulin Rouge!  The Musical ‘arrives Pantages

Any jukebox musical that starts with an offensive rendition of “Lady Marmalade” means business. And “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” the Broadway juggernaut spun from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, begins with this Las Vegas-style dance party.

If Cheesecake Factory was a musical, it would undoubtedly look and sound like “Moulin Rouge”. The temptations are obvious, the portions are huge and the goal is satiety to a barely-spoken exhaustion.

What one theatergoer considers deliciously lavish will be seen by another as decadently excessive. “Moulin Rouge”, which premieres in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, is a musical of extremes. Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including best musical, the show is not about subtlety or nuance. The entertainment is driving, blissful, uninterrupted and simply climbing.

The production, directed with colorful flamboyance by Alex Timbers, carries its art like a chewing gum corsage. The staging can sometimes bring back flashbacks from the Valentine’s Day hallway at your local pharmacy, but the gaudy rakishness seems to be at Pantages’ home.

Scenic designer Derek McLane creates a festive atmosphere, evocative not so much of end of century Paris, where the story of the “Moulin Rouge” takes place, but about a secret wonder gallery at the Paris Las Vegas hotel casino, where a copy of the Eiffel Tower enlivens the silhouette and no one is fooled.

On one side of the stage stands a windmill; on the other is a giant elephant. In the center is the Moulin Rouge, the nightclub near Montmartre, where can-can dancers show off their underwear, morale is kept in check and romance is a mercantile sport.

The plot of the musical is not identical to the film, but the motive is the same: Christian (Conor Ryan), a young songwriter from Ohio, has arrived in Paris and is immediately recognized for his lyrical genius by Toulouse-Lautrec (André). Ward), who is planning a new show for Satine (Courtney Reed), the Moulin Rouge headliner who feels that time is struggling with her.

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Harold Zidler (Austin Durant), the owner of the nightclub, has arranged a mission between Satine and the Duke of Monroth (David Harris). Harold, who threatens the devil as the sentinel to the gates of hell, knows that Satine could use a sugar daddy and hopes that the duke will be so preoccupied with her sensual gifts that he will fund the club’s new show.

However, Christian captures Satine’s heart with his silly love songs, which he dreams of with the indifference of a playlist in a music library. It turns out that the duke has a dark side and does not welcome playing the second violin to an American songwriter who is struggling in Paris. As he plans his revenge, Satine must choose between embarrassing love and oppressive, yet elegant, security.

The gimmick of both Luhrmann’s film and the musical, which includes a book by John Logan and arrangements and orchestrations by musical director Justin Levine, is that anachronistic pop hits are the lingua franca of the characters, who communicate their passions using songs made famous by Elton John, Beyoncé , Madonna, Rihanna, Katy Perry and far too many others to mention here. Levine contributes additional lyrics that perform the usual jukebox service with shoehorn songs to an unrelated story.

Luhrmann’s film is an overripe visual opera. Timber’s musical production is a karaoke fantasy. The song list whips the audience into a Pavlovsk foam.

When Lady Gaga’s dance hit “Bad Romance” opens the second act in the form of “Backstage Romance”, led by tango gigolo Santiago (Gabe Martínez) and tired showgirl Nini (Libby Lloyd), the energy is matched on stage by the energy of the audience. The thunderous ovation at the end of the track, excitingly choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, was maintained at such a pitch that I almost feared theatergoers would storm the stage to join in the fun.

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No one present at Thursday’s opening seemed at all concerned that the story was subordinate to musical spectacle. “Moulin Rouge” gives us a modern pop mashup of “La Traviata” with its dying courtesans with a noble heart, and “La Bohème” with its poor bohemian artists in the Latin Quarter who create art, fall in love and confront death.

When consuming Satine coughs in her handkerchief, she reveals the red spot that any terminal opera heroine knows how to do. Reed does not appear to be performing in Shakespeare. Her gestures and expressions are performed as for a music video from the 1980s – all written as large as humanly possible.

Reed’s singing is strong by cover band standards, but it is the vitality of her scene that attracts attention. Her satin moves with seductive authority, fully aware of her effect on men and no doubt some women who pay to see her sparkle as she sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”.

Catherine Zuber’s costumes, as glamorous as they are louche, practically steal the show. The production’s design grows in artistry as the stage moves to the streets of Paris, with picturesque scrims that have the charm of an animated film and lighting by Justin Townsend that introduces beautiful chiaroscuro effects.

Durant can just as easily spin a bare melodramatic all the time he is on stage as a cartoon version of Harold. Wards Toulouse-Lautrec wears the accent like a wet patch, not that it matters when he lights a melody. Harris’ Duke plays the villainous snob with a degree of cunning that keeps us unsure of the extent of his depravity.

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Like Christian, Ryan is most enchanted when he sings full time. His voice casts a spell that unlocks the treasures of favorite songs, old and new. (The list of hits has been updated from the movie, to jog the memories of millennials while still quenching their Gen X thirst.)

I was not able to invest emotionally in the fate of Christian and Satine. “Moulin Rouge” is a Broadway musical that elicits more sweat than tears. But resistance is vain in the tidal wave of brilliant music and the company’s willingness to send everyone home with an ecstatic smile.

‘Moulin Rouge! Musicals’

Where: Hollywood Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., LA

When: 20.00 Tuesdays-Fridays, 14.00 and 20.00 Saturdays, 13.00 and 18.30 Sundays. Ends September 4th

Tickets: Starting at $ 39

Consult: (800) 982-2787or or

Operating time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

Follows at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa November 9-27, 2022.

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