SHOWGIRLS “Moulin Rouge!,” the musical based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, opened on Broadway in late July.
IT’S WEIRD. I THOUGHT I’d seen “Moulin Rouge!” the movie years ago. But now that I’ve spent an evening at “Moulin Rouge!,” the musical that just opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theater, I’m not so sure. Maybe I only saw parts of it — when it was on HBO or Showtime or whatever.
Anyway. As others have observed, this flashy-splashy new stage spectacular is very good at being what it is — pure escapist entertainment. And most of the audience seemed ecstatic. (That may not have included all of the 20 or so women who were locked out of the first part of Act II because they were late returning to their seats. The Hirschfeld — formerly the Martin Beck — has more than 1,400 seats, was built in 1924 and could use a bathroom expansion. Or let’s expand intermission to 30 minutes. Think of how much more booze and candy could be sold.)
But I digress. “Moulin Rouge!” is gorgeous and elaborate and ever so derivative — but that’s fine. It is, as Elvis Mitchell (a New York Times film critic at the time) observed of the movie, very, very red. Loved the working windmill in the boxes just above the orchestra, house left. Liked the giant elephant, house right.
THE RIGHT BANK IS A CABARET Danny Burstein plays Harold Zidler, the club’s dynamic, cash-strapped owner, in “Moulin Rouge!,” which is set in Paris in 1899.
If the plot seems familiar — well, yeah, it’s a classic doomed romance. Christian (the adorably vulnerable Aaron Tveit), a penniless English writer (in the stage version, he’s now American), runs away to Paris in 1899 and falls in love with the first showgirl-courtesan he meets, Satine (the adorably tough Karen Olivo). But it’s hard to compete with the manipulative, sexist, egotistical duke (Tam Mutu, thrlilingly unlikable) who also wants her. In the end — spoiler alert, but really was there any other option? — she dies, of consumption, in Christian’s arms. Meanwhile the club (the Moulin Rouge itself) teeters on the brink of financial collapse, the owner (Danny Burstein, who seems to be getting better every year) tries to control everyone, the charming-best-friend character is the artist Toulouse-Lautrec (a marvelous Sahr Ngaujah), and everything around them and us sparkles.
MISMATCH.COM Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit play the lovers. She’s a whore; he’s poor.
The first time I laughed out loud: When, entering a discussion of whether/why/how their romance can work out, a character burst into the theme song from “Dawson’s Creek” (“I don’t wanna wait/For our lives to be over”). At most Broadway musicals, the Playbill includes a song list, but this one is such a mélange, with snippets of pop hits from all over, that the list would have been pages long. “Lady Marmalade” (“Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” is the closest thing the show has to an anthem.
“Moulin Rouge!,” Al Hirschfeld Theater, 302 West 45th Street, Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes. Open run.
A CHORUS LINE IN PARIS There’s dancing.
10 THINGS YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST KNOW BEFORE YOU WALK THROUGH THE DOOR OF THE AL HIRSCHFELD THEATER
1. “Moulin Rouge” is based on the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. The plot: A British writer goes to Paris at the turn of the century and falls in love with a courtesan/showgirl, even though another man has “claimed” her. Luhrmann’s other best-known films are “The Great Gatsby” (with Leonardo DiCaprio) and “Romeo + Juliet” (with Leonardo DiCaprio).
2. Karen Olivo, who stars as Satine (the Kidman role) is a native New Yorker who won a Tony for playing Anita in the 2009 revival of “West Side Story.” She shared a Drama Desk Award for best ensemble (“In the Heights”) in 2007 and got her start as an understudy in “Rent” in the ‘90s.
3. Aaron Tveit, who plays Christian (the McGregor role), made his Broadway debut as a replacement for Link Larkin in “Hairspray” and his Broadway reputation starring in “Catch Me if You Can” (2011). in the role DiCaprio played in the movie.
4. The New York Times gave the show a glowing review..
5. Alex Timbers, who directed, is the same guy who gave us “Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson” (a raved-about but still underrated musical), “Peter and the Starcatcher” (2012) and “Beetlejuice” (which opened this year.)
6. Derek McLane designed the set. Enough said.
7. The Al Hirschfeld Theater, where it’s playing, hasn’t been available for a while. “Kinky Boots” ran there for six years (2013-19).
8. The Moulin Rouge is a real place (82 Boulevard de Clichy, in the 18th Arronidssement) — still. According to Trip Advisor, you can go there, have dinner and see the show for just under $210 per person.
9. You can see the movie on Prime Video for $3.99.
10. You can buy a mezzanine seat for the stage musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theater for $179 or so. (Depends on the day.)
NOW CHECK OUT THE PRESS NIGHTS FEATURE ON THE NEW YORK TIMES’S CHEKHOV ARTICLE.