Moulin Rouge – August 2018

So, Moulin Rouge. I didn’t intend to ‘review’ it but it gave me some things to think about so I thought I’d write them down. First off, kind of a spoiler alert especially if you plan on seeing it. So be warned.

This is the second jukebox musical I’ve seen this year. (Jukebox musicals are essentially shows where a writer creates a story around a set of songs that already exist, usually popular songs everyone knows. They are very popular among people who generally don’t like musicals but like music because they go in already knowing the songs.) I am not a fan of jukebox musicals because I feel like the story is always forced and I much prefer to hear original music. Having written that, I loved Jagged Little Pill (using the music of Alanis Morissette), the first jukebox musical I saw this year. Moulin Rouge? Not so much.

It was an incredible spectacle

It is GORGEOUS. I posted pictures of the stage and surrounding setting last night that don’t do it justice. It’s remarkable. Walking into the theater was like walking into Fenway for the first time. It was magic. The costumes are so stunning it was almost difficult to focus on the show. The performers were a thousand times better than the show they were performing. Broadway stars Karen Olivo and Danny Burstein, Tam Matu, he of the West End…and of course Aaron Tveit (who really is ridiculously talented. A fact overlooked because the two times I’ve seen him perform on stage I was surrounded by teenage fan girls who, in all fairness, seem to know their theatre as well). Sahr Ngaujah as Toulouse-Lautrec and Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler steal the show. Both actually got more applause than Tveit at the curtain call – even from the fan girls. The company was incredible as well. I honestly loved this cast. I just wish I loved the show.

Some weirdness, for me anyway. Before every recognizable song (there are at least 2 original songs in the show) the audience would start laughing. Some of it was appropriate but some of it lead into serious scenes that weren’t funny at all. I think this is one of the drawbacks of some jukebox miracles. In the case of Moulin Rouge, there’s no theme. It isn’t all ABBA songs, or Alanis songs or Queen songs…it’s just a mishmash of whatever the writer thought would work (and in one case it felt like they created a medley of every song they could think of that had the word LOVE in it). So with there being no theme to the songs, the audience seemed to think every song was a funny choice.

In the comedy Oh, Hello On Broadway John Mulaney and Nick Kroll do a bit on the different tropes in a Broadway show…one of the funnier being when they act out someone coughing into a handkerchief then showing the audience the blood on it as a way on conveying how very ill they are. This happens, without irony, in Moulin Rouge. (The character actually CARRIES AROUND THE BLOODY HANDKERCHIEF.) – As I wrote this I realized the guy who directed Oh, Hello (Alex Timbers) also directed this…so go figure.

At one point, knowing a character was going to die (they tell you this about 10 minutes into the show…do they do that in the movie? I’ve never seen the movie). I started to feel like Elaine in the English Patient episode of Seinfeld (“Die already!!”).

This might be the first time I watched a live theater performance where I didn’t cry once.

So I don’t know…if you have the means and can easily get to it, I think it’s something worth SEEING (like, literally looking at), but unless you’re a huge fan of the movie (I’m guessing fans of the movie will love the show) there isn’t much substance here. The show is supposedly going to hit Broadway at some point. If I had to choose between this and the other jukebox musical I watched this year to head to NYC, I’d pick Jagged Little Pill, absolutely. A great story line, great use of the songs and outstanding performances. This one is the glitzy one though, with the big names attached so it’ll go far I’m sure.

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