This past Sunday night, I headed out for the second of three Broadway shows of the month (the third will be West Side Story): Moulin Rouge!
The tickets were a Christmas gift from my mom. We both loved the movie when it came out, and were curious about the Broadway version. We had also heard very mixed reviews, and I myself had mixed feelings about seeing it, given that I had heard some of the soundtrack in advance and didn’t love what they did with it. Even so, it seemed a spectacle worth experiencing.
We began the evening with dinner at my favorite pre-Broadway restaurant, Marseille. I love all things French, particularly the food, and at Marseille I really can pretend I am in a Parisian bistro. I got my old standby (and favorite food of all time): steak frites with béarnaise sauce and chocolate mousse. Sufficiently full, we headed over to the theater.
First off, the theater looks spectacular when you go in. It is flashy and lavishly decorated, reminiscent of the movie. The windmill is there, of course, as is the elephant. If you are a fan of the film, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. We were seated in the mezzanine which offered a great view of all the decor of the theater. Before the show started, they had the actors walking around on the stage, presumably to give the impression that you are, in fact, at the Moulin Rouge.
The show began, and I’ll start with the positives: the costumes were amazing. A can can skirt really is a feat of construction, isn’t it? Most of the appeal is all underneath the costume, in the multitudes of ruffles hiding under a relatively mundane skirt that the can can girls display as they dance.
Much of the costumes were a variety of corsets and slinky robes. According to costume designer Catherine Zuber, there were 200 costumes (which definitely makes sense since Satine wears at least four in the first act alone, in a time span of one night!). I did miss the iconic red dress, though they did include one at one point in the show:
The sets were also lavish and detailed, and very Baz Luhrmann-esque. The quintessential L’amour sign is present in a number of scenes and, as mentioned earlier, the very familiar windmill and elephant do make their appearance.
However that is where my admiration for the show ends. It just fell short for me, and I’m finding it difficult to explain why. The actors were all good, there were no bad voices, but it just didn’t have the same appeal that the original movie did. My mom said afterwards that she didn’t feel like the two leads had any chemistry (although we did see the standby Satine), and that led me to say that it didn’t seem like anyone really had any chemistry with anything else. Like, they were a theater company who came to work and went home. I didn’t get a sense of camaraderie from the actors that I get when I see other shows, and I think that’s where the lacking feeling came from.
Also, the music? They changed a lot of the original numbers from the movie, and created new mashups of various songs. At one point it started to feel like someone had challenged themselves to use as many songs as humanly possible in the show. However, I will give praise to what is called Crazy Rolling on the soundtrack – it was a combination of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy and Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, and I thought it was really well done. But on the other hand I really missed the original Elephant Love Medley… it was there a little bit.
If you are a huge fan of the movie, I feel as though you may share my opinion on the show. But then again maybe not. As I was listening to various people leaving the theater, I was clearly in the minority when it came to my opinion. However, it was spectacular to look at it, and for that reason alone I recommend checking it out.
Moulin Rouge is currently playing at the Al Hirschfeld Theater.