Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is based on the 2001 film of the same name, and follows the lives of both bohemians and the bourgeois as they meet at the famous Paris cabaret theater during the start of the 20th century. Central to the story is Satine, the show's star attraction, who is pursued by Christian, a recently arrived American and aspiring songwriter, as well as the rich and ruthless Duke of Monroth. The show won the Tony Award for Best Musical for the 2019 - 2020 season shortened by COVID-19.
With the exception of the song "Come What May," which was written for the film, the score for Moulin Rouge! The Musical consists of well-known songs spanning nearly a century, with most being from the past forty years. Unlike the scores from most jukebox musicals which are limited to the song catalogs of a singular singer or songwriter, this show picks from all sources available. The result is a very catchy selection of numbers, including songs from the likes of Madonna, Rihanna, Adele, Katy Perry, Tina Turner, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, and Lady Gaga, just to name a few. In many cases, a montage of snippets of songs combine together to make one number, such as twenty songs grouped to form the Act 1 finale, "Elephant Love Medley." The song list isn't provided in the Playbill, and part of the fun is recognizing each as it is heard.
The book by John Logan closely follows the screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce. It has a nice balance of romance, history, drama and comedy. With the songs not written for this story or for these characters, the score adds depth to the storytelling. There is, instead, a reliance on narration to help in the efficiency of conveying backstory and setting the story into motion. However, the tale is clearly told and there's sufficient empathy for the characters.
Director Alex Timbers has certainly pulled the material together in a fast-paced and eye-popping manner, and succeeds in making the characters and story fully realized, despite having to rely solely on the book to do so. The seamless blocking and smooth transitions are assets to the production as well. There's a lot of athletic choreography provided by Sonya Tayeh, with the dances that begin each act being especially noteworthy. Andrew Graham leads a great sounding 10-piece orchestra.
John Cardoza is an endearing Christian, and he captures both the earnest naiveté and heartbroken angst of the role skillfully. Courtney Reed is a sympathetic Satine, and she displays a wonderful stage presence and sparkle throughout. Both leads are excellent vocalists as well, and their rendition of "Your Song" is a highlight of the show. Austin Durant is a fun and imposing Harold Zidler, the emcee of the Moulin Rouge cabaret show. The ensemble and supporting characters also provide worthwhile performances, including Nick Rashad Burroughs (Toulouse-Lautrec), Gabe Martinez (Santiago), Andrew Brewer (The Duke of Monroth), and Libby Lloyd (Nini).
The design elements are all splendid. Derek McLane's scenic design isn't as opulent as it is on Broadway, but nonetheless impresses. His ability to create depth (downstage to upstage) is praiseworthy, and the details and variety of his sets are notable. The lighting by Justin Townsend pulls out all the stops, with numerous effects and stunning results. Catherine Zuber's costumes are unique, fun, attractive, sexy, and befitting the locale and period, but with special theatrical flair.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical may be a bit of style over substance, in part due to the limitations in storytelling due to using existing songs. Still, the collection of songs is one of the main attractions of the show, so that's the consequence of the trade-off. A talented touring cast, many visual treats, and those well-known songs make this a show to remember.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs through June 4, 2023, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit moulinrougemusical.com/us-tour/home/.