It’s a story we have all heard before — a poor young man falls passionately in love with a woman out of his league and does everything in his power to be with her. However, at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City, you’ll see this tale unfold in a unique and spectacular way: filled with glitz and glamor, love, tragedy and some good old-fashioned themes of rich versus poor.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is a jukebox musical adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film of the same name, and it definitely lives up to the film. The musical swept the 74th Tony Awards, winning 10 of the 14 awards it was nominated for — including best musical.
The musical follows the love story between Christian, a bohemian composer who came to Paris to find himself, and Satine, the “sparkling diamond” of the Moulin Rouge theater. Through a bit of trickery by Christian’s friends, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago the Argentinean, he is able to meet Satine.
Satine believes Christian to be the wealthy Duke of Monroth, whom she has to seduce to invest in the theater and save it from financial ruin, while Christian thinks he has to impress her with a song to pitch his friends’ idea for a musical to be put on at the Moulin Rouge.
After some classic hijinks, the real Duke of Monroth walks in on Satine and Christian, who quickly try to hide the misunderstanding by pretending like they had invited the Duke to Satine’s dressing room to pitch him an idea for a play called “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He agrees to fund their play, and the rest of the play details Satine and Christian’s secret love affair.
Satine is torn between saving the Moulin Rouge by being with the controlling and cruel Duke and following her heart to be with Christian. Eventually, on the opening night of the play, Christian plans to shoot himself on stage because Satine rejected him, but she stops him by singing their love song. Then, she dies in his arms from tuberculosis.
This tragic love story touches on all four of the bohemian values: truth, beauty, freedom and love, and it is a tribute to young passion and artistry. Though the musical is a tragedy, it has plenty of exciting moments with flamboyant costumes, glittering sets and booming music. There are moments of levity throughout the show, and the unique setting and costuming of the musical make this stereotypical story feel special and fresh.
Aaron Tveit, who opened the show on Broadway as Christian and won a Tony Award for his performance, returned to the show for a limited 12-week engagement in early 2023. His intimate understanding of his character and uncompromising dedication to portraying Chrisitian’s passion and pain was apparent in his performance, and his powerful voice helped the audience stay engaged even in the slowest songs.
Despite the interesting premise and passionate performers, the jukebox nature of the musical felt like it came out of left field. The story is very typical, dramatic Broadway, but the modern pop songs — including “Firework” by Katy Perry, “Royals” by Lorde and “Chandelier” by Sia — felt incredibly out of place in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris.
Though the original film was also a jukebox musical, the stage show utilized different songs from the film. If they were going to rewrite the music for the stage adaptation anyway, a few more original songs would have greatly improved the show — hearing Sia’s “Chandelier” booming as Christian worked through heartbreak with alcohol hardly seemed appropriate, and it distracted from the magic of the moment.
Despite the strange song choices, the musical is definitely worth the two hour and 45-minute run time. The set design is beautiful, the dancing is exciting and a bit risqué and the tale feels incredibly raw and human.
If you ever find yourself in New York City, invest a night into seeing “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.” After all, as the playbill at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre reads, “How wonderful life is … at the Moulin Rouge.”