It packs a wallop. But gosh, getting walloped this way is so much fun. I experienced a nearly constant state of joy witnessing the ballistic pageant of song, dance, and bombast better as Moulin Rouge: The Musical, now on at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. Not since the ornate theater’s vaudeville days has its gilded frou-frou interior-design been as well matched as by the baroque show now spilling from its stage. It’s red, it’s sexy, it’s romantic, it’s hot and bothered. It’s tawdry and outrageous, and p.s., the dancing is really good. If I had to summarize in one word, that would be, “go.”
Everyone knows the drill, whether from the 2001 Baz Luhrmann movie, or from the show’s spasmodic run in New York which, despite the rude interruption of a horrifying pandemic, still managed to garner the Tony Award for Best Musical — and a truckload of others.
The “drill” concerns the show’s musical score. A wide array of mainstream pop-music tunes dating to the 1950s (most are way more recent than that) in new arrangements are clustered into medleys with paramountcy placed on lyrics; these mini arias are employed to partake in the show’s rococo plot.
Moulin Rouge tells the tale of a love triangle. The players are a Lady Marmalade/Material Girl named Satine, dressed more often than not in a Merry Widow corset and peignoir; her patron, The Duke of Monroth, nefariously well-suited to his theme song, the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” treats her like a piece of property; and Satine’s true heartthrob (and ours) Christian, an idealistic starving artist, a composer, who bellows a medley of “The Sound of Music/I Don’t Want to Wait/Every Breath You Take/Never Gonna Give You Up.” Gorgeous voice, by the way, on Conor Ryan, who plays Christian.
When was the last time that a dance number spontaneously combusted an audience into rapture — not to mention hoots, hollers, clapping, and screaming so as to stop a show? An earnest standing ovation disallowing anything to proceed until standees resume their collective seats? But that’s what choreographer Sonya Tayah wrought in “Backstage Romance,” a six-minute, all-hands-on-deck dance-extravaganza that opens the second act. It’s not a dance, it’s a rocket ship.
Oh, the costumes! One very charming mise-en-scene has the cast strolling the Champs Elysee garbed in muted purples and pinks, the ladies’ oversized hats trailing impossibly long veils. The Duke — whom you are meant to despise — looked so boss in his mauve top-hat and waistcoat ensemble that you pang with fascination because … when did a bad guy look so fabulous?
The singing, the personalities, the talent, the fun pre-show with actors demonically pacing the stage as red lights swoop over the eager audience. The audience sparkled! It’s a thing, apparently, to dress in gold sequins for Moulin Rouge: The Musical, and our house glittered with them, girls in gold minidresses, guys in glowing jackets. By their spangly garb, they signaled they were game, that they were ready for theater. I liked it. It felt like “buy in.” The happy lobby scene — the shmoozing, cocktailing, and photo taking — conveyed the hunger audiences feel for release from the nonstop angst. Moulin not only proselytizes for freedom, but the very act of seeing it imparts freedom. A great night, thanks to so many talented people. Moulin Rouge: the Musical. Go!
Dance critic Debra Levine is founder/editor/publisher of arts●meme.
Moulin Rouge: the Musical | Hollywood Pantages Theatre thru Sept 4 | Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, Nov 9 – 27