Entering the famous Pantages Theater during the Thursday opening of ‘Moulin Rouge! Musical theatergoers are transported to the debauchery of a smoky cabaret through the streets of Paris’ 1899 Montmartre district. With the iconic Moulin à wind on the left and a giant blue elephant on the right, the entire theater is bathed in sexy hues of red, draped in lush fabrics, punctuated with Belle Époque neon lights overlooking the rooftops of Paris. cigar smokers in tuxedos and top hats, weave their way onto the stage, silently titillating the audience with their eyes, surveying the stage and preparing you for the boisterous ride ahead.Directed by Alex Timbers, the show invites you to a big, bubbly dance party that makes you want to live there.Like the Baz Luhrmann movie it’s based on, the mash-up pop-rock score of hit songs elicits all kinds of nostalgia that don’t only adds to the euphoria of it all.
A deliciously decadent Austin Durant as MC and club owner, Harold Zidler greets us with a sassy “welcome, you magnificent collection of outcasts and rogues, entertainers and upstarts, maids and sodomites – whatever your sin, you are welcome here.”
Our protagonist, Christian, asks us if we remember our “first true romance” as he invites us to experience all of those feelings associated with him, and in the hands of Conor Ryan, we absolutely do. He is a young, wide-eyed 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 perform at the Moulin Rouge – that is, if they can get that its star singer, Satine, agrees to play there and convinces Zidler to produce. Unbeknownst to them, the club is actually 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 hopelessly in love against the backdrop of a gloriously dazzling world created by Derek McLane’s sets and Catherine Zuber’s lavish costumes.
The show is strongest when it stays close to Luhrmann’s film in terms of song choice. In my opinion, they were precisely staged for a big hit in the movie and the attempts here to update them sometimes fall a bit flat and seem like they’re played for laughs. While two of my favorite scenes and songs from the movie, the elephant love medley and tango on “Roxanne,” are just as strong in the musical. Throughout, Sonya Tayeh’s choreography is just an explosion. The set does a dizzying mix of Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and Britney’s “Toxic” that literally brought the show to a halt when they received a four-minute standing ovation. Honestly, I’ve never seen that happen in a musical. But that’s the vibe of this whole show. It’s a PARTY and the public is 100% invited to participate – a large part of the public was dressed in brand new, very Moulin Rouge brand, and would have gladly jumped on stage if asked!
Ryan gives a star turn and his Christian is not to be missed. He has a soaring, beautiful and tender voice that fits perfectly with the young lover and he is a performer who leaves everything on stage – there is not a moment when you do not see him completely immersed and engaged with each fiber of his being. He is captivating 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-earned courage 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 the mash-UPS! Their chemistry together makes it easy to get carried away with their romance and root for them.
David Harris is a sexy dead duke, announcing himself with a sultry rendition of “Sympathy for the Devil”! Kisses from the chef! Gabe Martinez is hilarious as Santiago and shares one of the sexiest acts with the exquisite Libby Lloyd as his love, Nini. Andre Ward stands out as Toulouse-Lautrec – his luscious voice evokes a broken heart and a passion for his craft. Nicci Claspell in Arabia, Harper Miles in La Chocolat, Andres Quintero in Baby Doll and Lloyd form the full-bodied quartet that begins with the lovely “Lady Marmalade”.
Here at the Moulin Rouge, life is one big bohemian rhapsody, where rules don’t apply and the artist’s mantra “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love” reigns supreme!
Red Mill! The musical runs through September 4, 2022 at the Hollywood Pantages Theater located at 6233 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles. Tickets start at $39 and are available at BroadwayInHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com, or at 1-800-982-2787 or by visiting the Pantages Theater box office.
The show will also make a stop at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts in Costa Mesa from November 9-27, 2022. For tickets, visit www. SCFTA.org or call 1-714-556-2787