Performing Arts: Theater
August 10, 2019
Fireworks explode, windmills spin, confetti sprays, swings pop out of the ceiling and an oversized elephant sculpture takes a gander at the audience in Baz Luhrman’s eye-popping Broadway musical Moulin Rouge.

Based on Luhrman’s gaudy, 2001 Oscar-winning film, this tale of love and fame is set against the backdrop of the spectacular Moulin Rouge club located in Montmartre -- a gritty, working class district of Paris. Bohemian life rages through the Parisian left-bank streets where dreamers and outcasts, the wealthy and bourgeoisie collide.

This colorful palette of individuals at the turn of the 20th century is evocatively captured in the paintings of musical halls by Toulouse Lautrec, which resonate loudly in the scenic designs by Derek McLane. Spilling beyond the stage, plush red velvet valentines and sparkling chandeliers surround costume designer Karen Huber’s scantily attired chorines and voluptuously adorned Parisian patrons.

John Logan’s book draws from the film, tossing a naïve young songwriter (from Lima, Ohio) into the flames of love. Desperate to get close to his passion—Moulin Rouge’s famed chanteuse, Satine (Karen Olivio) – Christian (Aaron Tveit) buys into his pals’ Santiago (Ricky Rojas) and Toulouse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) urgings to take his song directly to Satine.

This unleashes the story of mixed identities, and star-crossed lovers suspended in a fabulously decadent club that welcomes all.

Decked in top hat and tails, the lurid M.C. (a sensational and unrecognizable Danny Burstein) urges the patrons to release their inhibitions and instead, revel in their fantasies. This is accomplished through a string of over 70 R & B and pop hits. Rolling ballads and dance songs form the musical backbone. Those intimate with the soundtracks of the 1970’s and 80’s will be jiggling in their seats and humming along.

Besides the fine performances and dynamic direction by Alex Timbers, Sonyah Tayeh’s inspired choreography gussies up all the edges. Like one of the great choreographers of classical ballet, Marius Petipa (Sleeping Beauty), she moves bodies through three different vertical tiers while making jumps and turns explode. In other words, Tayeh crafts dances, which fill the stage from the floor to the ceiling. Additionally every performer’s walk suggests a different, wildly evocative personality.

Aided by Justin Townsend’s circular lighting, the choreography unleashes the music’s subtext in grinding moves and spiraling torsos dipped in extravagant leg extensions and the world famous can-can kick line. Timbers and Tayeh forge a volatile synergy that consistently animates the stage.

Another outstanding dance moment happens when the tango dancer—Santiago whips his partner Robyn Hurder into a steamy display of “vertical sex.”

Although Moulin Rouge echoes other productions including “La Boehme” and “Cabaret” it maintains its own, very distinct brand of lurid glory led in large part by the hard worn, but vulnerable Satine. Grit guides her every move and her sinuous voice ekes out the pathos in every song. Of course, another nod goes to Justin Levine’s bountiful orchestrations, arrangements and additional lyrics.

By the end, the audience wins a night gilded in fantasy and fun.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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