Thank you, places: ‘Moulin Rouge’ dazzles in display of truth, beauty, freedom and love
The breathtaking Broadway hit recently rocked the Kennedy Center stage
John Logan’s interpretation of Baz Lehrmann’s jukebox musical, “Moulin Rouge” swept audiences off their feet this summer at the Kennedy Center.
As the show begins, Christian (originally played by Aaron Tveit) raises the curtain with a subtle gesture as a red-lit “MOULIN ROUGE” marquee sign soars upwards. The sign raise is affectionately considered one of modern musical theater’s most iconic moments.
The show follows Christian, a humble composer from Lima, Ohio, and his journey to Paris to find himself as an artist.
Christian comes across two ragtag Frenchmen, Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec, who describe themselves and their intentions in the joyful “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love,” Later, Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec introduce Christian to Satine, a dancer at the Moulin Rouge who becomes his lover in the captivating number “Welcome to the Moulin Rouge.” The song is embellished by boisterous commentary from Harold Zidler, owner of the Moulin Rouge, and Satine’s trademark swing-descent entrance that gave rise to her moniker: “The Sparkling Diamond.”
Satine then leads the ensemble in a glamorously gaudy performance of “The Sparkling Diamond” with choreography reminiscent of Burlesque and modern pop that leaves Christian, as well as audience members, speechless.
The razzle-dazzle momentarily becomes sentimental with Satine’s powerful rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” which reveals her struggle with tuberculosis. It happens after Satine is forcibly introduced to the Duke of Monroth, and emphasizes Christian’s endearing goal of finding himself, and his desperate attraction towards Satine.
These passions are followed by the musically stunning “Your Song.” This scene paints a gorgeous picture of Christian’s admiration for Satine’s resilience, and Satine’s new adoration for his naive creativity.
“One of the things that I really care about as someone who loves theater is when theater feels like it's in dialogue with popular culture and popular music,” director Alex Timbers said in an interview with broadway.com. This intention lies abundantly clear in the musical’s 71 pop songs that are fondly recognized by audiences.
Christian and Satine’s blossoming love story is colored by a medley of other key players. Nini, Satine’s envious best friend, who is involved in a slow-burn romance with Santiago, wants nothing more than a chance to be in the spotlight that Satine has occupied for so long. The brooding Duke promises to finance the spectacles that define the Moulin Rouge in exchange for Satine’s unwilling companionship. And of course, the bubbly Harold Zidler, who is a father figure of the Moulin Rouge, tries desperately to keep it afloat.
Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec’s ambitious camaraderie and Christian’s playwriting passion blend together in an intricate plan to create a new show that will sell the venue back into business. Naturally, Christian and Satine are cast as lovers, and the show reflects the struggles and experiences of the Rouge.
None of this could be accomplished without the standout talent from the show’s ensemble.
“The incredible ensemble is fully electric as they sweep through the stage physically telling the story of Christian and Satine’s secret love affair,” Sonya Tayeh, the musical’s choreographer, said in an interview with Variety Magazine. “It makes me so proud to watch them.”
The cast is led by the four Lady Ms, including Nini; La Chocolat, traditionally played by a Black woman; Baby Doll, who is portrayed as a drag queen; and Arabia, who is also traditionally played by a woman of color. The four add a sultry, yet ethereal boost to the already passion-charged story..
The representation these characters provide is integral to the show’s celebration of inclusivity and confidence of diversity.
“The [Lady Ms] embody truth, beauty, freedom and love,” Justin Levine, the show’s music supervisor, said in a video for Playbill.
Act II of the show opens with “Backstage Romance,” a rehearsal scene set to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” The White Stripes’ “SevenNation Army” and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
The hard-hitting, passionate jazz choreography of this number went viral in the TikTok musical theater community. It is arguably the most impactful element of the show from a choreography perspective.
“This [number] has so much technique, strength, motivation, attack and control in every move,” Libby Lloyd, who plays Nini in the national tour, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
The most memorable moment that keeps audiences returning, though, is Christian’s famous opt-up. This comes from a stylistic choice where the performer sings a higher note than listed for dramatic effect in “El Tango de Roxanne” at select performances. With a video of the song gaining over one million views on YouTube and almost four million on TikTok, the opt-up is arguably one of the most awe-inspiring vocal moments to grace a Broadway stage.
The show, known for its balance of high-energy pizazz and heart-wrenching depictions of undying devotion, truly shines just as brightly as the sparkling diamond of the club itself.
This article was edited by Sara Winick, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Olivia Citarella.