Walking into the storied Pantages Theatre on Thursday’s opening of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” theatergoers are transported to the debauchery of a smoky cabaret on the streets of 1899’s Montmartre district of Paris. With the iconic windmill to the left and a giant blue elephant on the right, the entire theatre is bathed in sexy hues of red, draped in lush fabrics, punctuated by belle époque neon overlooking Paris rooftops. Corset and stocking-clad dancers, along with cigar smoking men in tuxedos and top hats, slink across the stage silently titillating the audience with their eyes, surveying the scene and preparing you for the raucous ride ahead. Directed by Alex Timbers, the show invites you to a big, ebullient dance party that has you wishing you could live there. Like the Baz Luhrmann film on which it is based, the pop-rock mash-up score of hit songs stirs all kinds of nostalgia which simply adds to the euphoria of it all.
A deliciously decadent Austin Durant as our MC and owner of the club, Harold Zidler greets us with a saucy “welcome, you gorgeous collection of reprobates and rascals, artistes and arrivistes, soubrettes and sodomites – no matter your sin, you are welcome here.”
Our protagonist, Christian, asks us if we remember our “first real love affair” as he invites us to feel all those associated feelings with him, and in the hands of Conor Ryan, we absolutely do. He’s a wide-eyed, young American songwriter newly arrived in Paris to find his artistic voice among the bohemians of Montmartre. He stumbles upon artist Toulouse-Lautrec and Argentine tango dancer Santiago as they struggle to create a new play with songs to present at the Moulin Rouge – that is if they can get its headliner chanteuse, Satine, to agree to star in it and convince Zidler to produce. Unbeknownst to them, the club is actually flat broke and Zidler has hatched a plan for Satine to seduce the wealthy Duke of Monroth into investing in the club. Mistaken identities, mad love affairs and mayhem ensue as Christian and Satine fall desperately in love against the backdrop of a gloriously dazzling world created by the Derek McLane sets and sumptuous Catherine Zuber costumes.
The show is strongest when it stays close to the Luhrmann film in terms of the song choices. In my opinion, they were precisely curated to great success in the film and the attempts here to update them sometimes fall a bit flat and seem to be played for laughs. Whereas two of my favorite scenes and songs from the film, the elephant love medley and the tango set to “Roxanne”, are equally strong in the musical. Throughout, the Sonya Tayeh choreography is just a blast. The ensemble does a dizzying mashup of Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Britney’s “Toxic” that literally stopped the show when they received a four minute long standing ovation. I honestly have never seen that happen in a musical. But that’s the vibe of this whole show. It’s a PARTY and the audience is 100% invited to partake – much of the audience was dressed to the nines, very much on Moulin Rouge brand, and would have gladly jumped on stage had they been asked!
Ryan gives a star-making turn and his Christian is not to be missed. He has a soaring, beautiful and tender voice that sits perfectly with the young lover and he is a performer that leaves it all on the stage – there isn’t a moment when you don’t see him utterly immersed and committed with every fiber of his being. He is riveting and breaks every heart in the room when he sings Elton John’s “Your Song”. Courtney Reed is an electrifying Satine, beautifully juxtaposing her hard won grit with her star quality stage presence in her knockout number, a “Diamonds Are Forever/Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend/Material Girl/Single Ladies” mash-up of all mash-ups! Their chemistry together makes it easy to get swept up in their love story and root for them.
David Harris is a drop dead sexy Duke, announcing himself with a sultry rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil”! Chef’s kiss! Gabe Martinez is hilarious as Santiago and shares one of the sexiest numbers with the exquisite Libby Lloyd as his love interest, Nini. Andre Ward is a standout as Toulouse-Lautrec – his luscious voice evokes a broken heart and passion for his art. Nicci Claspell as Arabia, Harper Miles as La Chocolat, Andres Quintero as Baby Doll, along with Lloyd, make up the bodacious quartet that starts it all off with the rapturous “Lady Marmalade”.
Here at the Moulin Rouge, life is one big bohemian rhapsody, where rules don’t apply and the artist mantra of “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love” reigns supreme!
Moulin Rouge! The Musical plays through September 4, 2022 at Hollywood Pantages Theatre located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. Tickets start at $39 and are available at BroadwayInHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com, or 1-800-982-2787 or by visiting the Pantages Theatre Box Office.
The show will also make a stop at Segerstrom Center For The Arts in Costa Mesa November 9 – 27, 2022. For tickets visit www. SCFTA.org or call 1-714-556-2787