Review: ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ arrives at the Pantages

Any jukebox musical that begins with a brutal rendition of “Lady Marmalade” is synonymous with business. And “Moulin Rouge!” The Musical,” the Broadway juggernaut from Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, is just getting started with this Las Vegas-style dance party.

If the Cheesecake Factory were a musical, it would undoubtedly be like “Moulin Rouge”. The temptations are obvious, the portions huge and the goal is satiety until exhaustion.

What one theatre-goer considers deliciously lavish will be seen by another as decadent and excessive. “Moulin Rouge,” which has its Los Angeles premiere at the Hollywood Pantages Theater, is a musical of extremes. Winner of 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the show tampers with neither subtlety nor nuance. Entertainment is propulsive, salacious, non-stop and downright taboo.

The production, directed with colorful flamboyance by Alex Timbers, wears its artifice like a bubblegum bodice. The showmanship can sometimes bring back flashbacks from your local drugstore’s Valentine’s Day aisle, but the garish audacity seems right at home at the Pantages.

Set designer Derek McLane creates a festive, evocative atmosphere less than end of century Paris, where the story of the “Moulin Rouge” takes place, but from a secret gallery of wonder at the casino of the Paris Las Vegas hotel, where a replica of the Eiffel Tower animates the horizon, deceiving no one.

To one side of the stage is a windmill; on the other, a giant elephant. At the center is the Moulin Rouge, the nightclub near Montmartre, where cancan dancers show off their underwear, morality is put on hold, and romance is a mercantile sport.

The plot of the musical is not identical to that of the film, but the meaning 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 conceives a new show for Satine (Courtney Reed), the headliner of the Moulin Rouge who feels time weighing on her.

Harold Zidler (Austin Durant), the owner of the nightclub, arranged a meeting between Satine and the Duke of Monroth (David Harris). Harold, who devilishly stands as the sentinel of the gates of hell, knows Satine might be in need of a sugar daddy and hopes the Duke will be so taken with her sensual gifts that he will fund the club’s new show.

Christian, however, captures Satine’s heart with his silly love songs, which he dreams up with the eagerness of a music library playlist. It turns out the Duke has a dark side and doesn’t like playing second fiddle to a struggling American songwriter in Paris. As he plots his revenge, Satine must choose between puny love and oppressive, albeit chic, security.

The thing about Luhrmann’s film and the musical, which includes a book by John Logan and arrangements and orchestrations by music supervisor Justin Levine, is that anachronistic pop hits are the lingua franca of the characters, who communicate their passions to the using songs famously composed by Elton John, Beyoncé, Madonna, Rihanna, Katy Perry and far too many others to mention here. Levine adds additional lyrics that perform the usual jukebox service of shoehorn songs in an unrelated storyline.

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

When Lady Gaga’s dance hit “Bad Romance” opens the second act under the guise of “Backstage Romance,” led by tango gigolo Santiago (Gabe Martínez) and jaded showgirl Nini (Libby Lloyd), the energy onstage is matched by the energy in the spectators. The thunderous ovation at the end of the number, enthusiastically choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, was so sustained that I was almost afraid that the audience would storm the stage to join in the fun.

No one in attendance at Thursday’s opening seemed at all concerned that the story was subordinated to the musical spectacle. “Moulin Rouge” gives us a modern pop mashup of “La Traviata,” with its noble-hearted dying courtesan, and “La Bohème,” with its impoverished bohemian artists from the Latin Quarter making art, falling in love, and facing death. .

When consumptive Satine coughs into her handkerchief, she reveals the red spot as any terminally ill opera heroine knows how. Reed does not pretend to be in Shakespeare. His gestures and expressions are interpreted as if out of a music video from the 1980s – everything written as big as humanly possible.

Reed’s vocals are loud by cover band standards, but it’s the vitality of his stage presence that commands attention. Her Satine moves with seductive authority, fully aware of her effect on men and arguably quite a few women who pay to see her shine as she sings “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

Catherine Zuber’s costumes, as glamorous as they are sleazy, practically steal the show. The production design gains in artistry as the scene moves through the streets of Paris, with painterly canvases that have the charm of an animated film and lighting by Justin Townsend that introduces beautiful effects of chiaroscuro.

Durant might as well be twirling a mustache melodramatically all the time he’s on stage as the cartoon version of Harold. Ward’s Toulouse-Lautrec wears his accent like a wet bandage, not that it matters when he lights up a melody. Harris’ Duke plays the villainous snob with a degree of cunning that leaves us uncertain of the extent of his depravity.

As a Christian, Ryan captivates the most when he sings with all his heart. Her voice casts a spell that unlocks treasures of favorite songs, old and new. (The hit list has been updated from the movie, to rekindle the memories of Gen Y while quenching the thirst of Gen X.)

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

‘Red Mill! Musical comedy’

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

When: 8 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6.30 p.m. on Sunday. Ends September 4

Tickets: From $39

Contact: (800) 982-2787 or BroadwayInHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com

Operating time: 2 hours, 40 minutes

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