Moulin Rouge musical is ‘mostly delicious’ on Broadway

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Matthew Murphy

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Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit are the lead roles in the new production

Moulin Rouge!, Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 jukebox musical was the film equivalent of absinthe, mind-alteringly great for some, queasily awful for others.

The stage musical has now arrived on Broadway with an updated soundtrack but the same love it or hate it results.

The three-star review, The Guardian’s Alexis Soloski asks: “Can Moulin Rouge deliver? Yes it can-can.”

But the FT’s Max McGuinness compared it to “a school disco with fancier costumes and more exuberant dancing”.

The new adaptation had its official press night at the at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York City on Thursday night.

Adapted by John Logan and directed by Alex Timbers – who’s had recent success with Beetlejuice, the cast includes Les Miserables star Aaron Tveit as writer Christian – played in the film by Ewan McGregor – who falls in love with the beautiful courtesan Satine.

She is played by Karen Olivo, a role which earned Nicole Kidman a best actress nomination at the 2000 Oscars.

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20th Century Fox

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The film paired Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman as star-crossed lovers

“The genius of the movie was not its narrative,” continued The Guardian’s review. “It was its lavish design… its deep knowledge that popular music unpacks our hearts and help us to feel our feelings.

“When Satine and Christian proclaim their love for each other by trading snippets of song, a set piece of the movie neatly rendered here, the effect is Shazam for the soul. Here, the original soundtrack – Lady Marmalade, Your Son – has been updated and enlarged with hits from Adele, Beyoncé and, to introduce the duke, the Rolling Stones.”

However, the paper had faint praise for the show’s leading man Tveit adding “a handsome face attached to a rich lyric tenor, has… all the sexual charisma of a baked potato. His scenes with Olivo seem friendly, nothing more.”

Musical additions to the stage show

  • So Fresh, So Clean – OutKast
  • Never Gonna Give You Up – Rick Astley
  • We Are Young -FUN
  • Single Ladies – Beyonce
  • Shut Up And Dance – Walk The Moon
  • I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me – Whitney Houston
  • Sympathy For The Devil/You Can’t Always Get What You Want/Gimme Shelter -The Rolling Stones
  • Don’t Speak – No Doubt
  • Bad Romance – Lady Gaga
  • Seven Nation Army – White Stripes
  • Toxic – Britney
  • Crazy – Gnarls Barkley
  • Rolling in the Deep – Adele

The stage show, which was first performed at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston last year has added a number of new songs which were not in the original film.

Tracks by Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Lorde, Gnarls Barkley and Adele are all referenced in the musical.

The show has lost One Day I’ll Fly Away – Kidman’s impassioned torch song cover of Randy Crawford’s song but retains the famous cover of Lady Marmalade, the number one hit for singers Christina Aguilera, Mýa, Pink and rapper Lil’ Kim.

“Of course, 70 songs does not mean that they’re all performed in full,” said Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos in her review.

“Most of the time, significant lines from the pop songs the show covers are used as operatic dialogue. This is where the show becomes disjointed: the mix of humour and earnestness meant to be elicited from the song references doesn’t quite mesh and the lines between those prominent aren’t properly drawn.

The music magazine argued the production’s stage setting means the “fantasy is forced to be grounded in reality and loses some of the film’s spectacular spectacular-ness in the process”.

“Drunk off its own accoutrements (specifically, the glossy roster of songs it packs in under three hours), the show loses touches of the emotion that made the film a modern classic in the first place.”

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Getty Images

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The film’s director Buz Luhrmann was in attendance at the opening night

The sheer number of songs was also the main issue for the Financial Times reviewer, who accused the creators of having “taken a large jukebox and pressed the shuffle button”.

“The film itself borrowed tracks from Elton John and Sting among others. This Moulin Rouge! reprises many of those hits while sampling dozens more, ranging from Beyoncé and Lorde to The Rolling Stones and Eurythmics.”

“Unlike Luhrmann’s flamboyantly shot film,” it added, “Alex Timbers’s staging fails to conjure an arresting visual spectacle to make up for the story’s paper-thin characterisation.”

This musical aspires to recreate the heady blend of art and showbusiness that characterised the Moulin Rouge in its heyday. Instead it resembles the same cabaret today – tacky, expensive, full of tourists, and living off past glories.

The movie, won two of its eight Oscar nominations in 2002, for best art direction and costume design.

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Getty Images

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The huge set at the Al Hirschfield theatre is built to resemble the famous Parisian attraction

In an otherwise glowing four-star review, Time Out’s Adam Feldman said: “Like the film, John Logan’s script trades in unvarnished melodrama. The characters function mostly on the level of archetype: They exist to flesh out the songs, which happily include many of the most memorable pop hits of our time.

The production is reported to have cost in the region of $28m (£22.5m) and Time Out agreed Moulin Rouge “looks and feels expensive”.

“It’s a very fancy heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day chocolates, and though you know exactly what you’re going to get, each bite is still a little surprise: sometimes gooey, sometimes nutty, sometimes fruity, sometimes sweet, sometimes stale but mostly delicious.”

Some of the US’s film publications and websites sent reviewers along to the first night.

In a fairly lukewarm review, Deadline’s Greg Evans said “certainly the track listing itself can be fun in a guess-what’s-next, parlour-game sort of way, at least initially. Wears thin fast, though, certainly by the time we get to the end of the overlong first act”.

However it conceded the “something-for-everyone approach has its advantages – not least a steady stream of applause and recognition chuckles that make Moulin Rouge! feel like one of the liveliest shows on Broadway.”

The reviewer from Variety’s Marilyn Stasio agreed, praising the show’s ability to live up to “what Broadway actually can do for a beloved musical property: bring it to life.”

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Getty Images

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No word yet on whether Moulin Rouge! will transfer to London’s West End

“In the film,” it said, “the plot is yet another tragic story of mismatched lovers… I’m not sick of it, and nor should you be. Tales about true love transcending divergent social origins and personal destinies never go out of fashion.”

Not to appear understated, The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney said: “The show is A LOT, in every sense, both intoxicating and exhausting in its unrelenting visual and sonic assault. But it virtually defies you not to be entertained.”

Calling it a “wildly extravagant production”, the trade papers said there is “no mystery as to where its reported $28 million budget has been spent. Negotiating the music rights alone must have cost a small fortune, while the sumptuous design elements induce whiplash as you try to take them all in.”

Moulin Rouge! The Musical, it concluded “is definitely all about the emphatic exclamation point, rarely about the subtler moments, and it could just as easily play Vegas as Broadway.

“It’s a postmodern La Boheme on hallucinogens.”

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