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stage review

Puttin’ on the glitz in ‘Moulin Rouge!’

Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”Matthew Murphy

She’s back. And she is just as beautiful as ever.

I am talking about the Emerson Colonial Theatre, which has been shuttered since “The Book of Mormon” closed in 2015 and is now under new management by the Ambassador Theatre Group. The old girl is splendid and looking fine, refurbished and glittering in her old glory.

Oh, and there is a show on that legendary stage, and it is just as glittery as the theater. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical,” John Logan’s adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s iconic 2001 movie musical, is sensory overload, jaw-droppingly kitschy, hilarious, and vapid at the same time. The show, which is making its world premiere and is bound for Broadway, is a fitting backstage drama set in Montmartre in 1899. But “Follies” (which debuted at the Colonial) it is not. It is a barrage of amusing musical mash-ups, with a “Love Medley” that kills in the first act — and a second act that drags.

Old story. Boy meets girl. He is an aspiring singer-songwriter. From Ohio. She is the star of the famed Moulin Rouge, a gorgeous Parisian who makes her entrances gliding down in a chair lowered from the rafters. The denizens of the nightclub all have checkered histories. Satine, our girl, was a “wretched little alley cat” when she was rescued by a would-be impresario named Harold Zidler. They want to save the club, so none other than Toulouse-Lautrec and his Argentinian friend, Santiago, set out with the boy from Ohio to write a show.


But everyone is for sale at the Moulin Rouge. Harold hooks Satine up with an evil Duke. Love triangle ensues.

Meanwhile, there is music. Lots of it. Jagger, Adele, Elvis, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Gnarls Barkley, Florence + The Machine, Rihanna. And Elton John, who gets top billing. The mash-ups in the first act are laugh out loud. Second act, not so much.


All that said, the ensemble is top-shelf. As Christian, the boy from Ohio with a lovely mane of hair, Aaron Tveit is a breath of fresh air in a show with too many women in bustiers and tattered fishnet stockings. Sahr Ngaujah, as Toulouse-Lautrec, is the epitome of an artist, and he breaks your heart. Danny Burstein holds his own as Zidler. Karen Olivo’s Satine is lovely. This is “La Boheme” a la Luhrmann, so it’s no secret how she ends up, suddenly.

Danny Burstein and company members in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”Matthew Murphy

The production is as slick as it gets: Fosse meets Luhrmann. Derek McLane’s sets are extravagant, ever-changing with a whimsical appearance of the Eiffel Tower. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are appropriately Bohemian. Sonya Tayeh’s sexy choreography never ends, with dancers touching each other and mingling body parts all over the theater. Alex Timbers’s direction is spot-on in the first act, but the attempt to turn the second act into a tragedy rather than a feel-good musical sucks the energy out of the show. The upbeat tacked-on coda feels forced.

No doubt, “Moulin Rouge!” is a crowd pleaser, all done up and dressed to show. But it left me feeling both giddy and empty, like Elton John’s “Your Song.”


Based on the film “Moulin Rouge!” by Baz Luhrmann. Book by John Logan. Directed by Alex Timbers. Music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Justin Levine. Choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Produced by Global Creatures. Presented by Ambassador Theatre Group. At Emerson Colonial Theatre, through Aug. 19. Tickets: From $55. 888-616-0272, www.EmersonColonialTheatre.com


Aaron Tveit, Sahr Ngaujah, and Ricky Rojas in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”Matthew Murphy

Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit with company members in the musical.Matthew Murphy

Patti Hartigan can be reached at pattihartigan@gmail.com.