Playing now through Feb. 4 at the Boston Citizens Bank Opera House, the touring production of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is a dazzling display of performance. Based on Baz Luhrmann’s beloved 2001 film, the stage adaptation premiered just blocks away from the Opera House in 2018 at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre before making its Broadway opening in 2019 with stars Aaron Tveit and Karen Olivo. The stage production expands on the movie’s jukebox musical score, combining more than 70 songs to create an eclectic lineup of pop hits.
Viewers of Luhrmann’s movie will be familiar with the musical’s plot: Young songwriter Christian (Christian Douglas) arrives in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, during the height of the Bohemian movement. He meets a pair of playwrights who hope to have their work produced at the Moulin Rouge, a popular cabaret in Montmartre, and he quickly falls in love with Satine (Gabrielle McClinton), the club’s star performer. The musical’s plot is faithful to its source material, but its jam-packed score and incredible choreography make the production truly unique.
Douglas is instantly likable as Christian, the young artist who hopes to win Satine’s heart. His charisma and crystal-clear voice keep pace with the non-stop energy of the show, and he often outshines McClinton, his onstage love interest. Robert Petkoff excels as Harold Zidler, the jovial ringleader of the club, especially in his wonderful booze-fueled rendition of Sia’s “Chandelier” (2014). Nick Rashad Burroughs and Danny Burgos feel underutilized as Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, the boisterous duo who bring Christian to the Moulin Rouge. Although, Santiago has an interesting romantic subplot with cabaret dancer Nini (Sarah Bowden). Act 2 opens with Santiago and Nini’s intimate performance of “Backstage Romance,” a dynamic number with magnificent choreography that complements their resonant vocals. Between the impressive lifts and the actors’ palpable chemistry, this number easily opens the act with a bang.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” has no shortage of breathtaking musical moments, including “Your Song” and “Come What May,” two duets between the romantic leads that also feature prominently in Luhrmann’s film. However, the show reaches its peak with Douglas’ show-stopping performance of “El Tango de Roxanne.” As Christian falls deeper into his heartbreak and despair, his emotions come through in his passionate vocals, fueled by the powerful harmonies of the ensemble members around him.
While the musical’s onslaught of pop songs may delight keen-eared audiences, its score is overstuffed with songs that come and go too fast, lacking the cohesion that makes many Broadway scores so powerful. The piece “In the Elephant: Elephant Love Medley,” in which Christian and Satine have a romantic conversation through snippets of popular love songs, is certainly entertaining but it never feels truly complete as the pair jumps quickly from one melody to the next. By nature of being a jukebox musical, the show’s music often feels outdated — even the modern music added to the stage version, which often feels like a radio station stuck in the 2010s.
What the musical lacks in its score it makes up for in its incredible production values. Justin Townsend’s lighting design makes the musical feel truly spectacular, and Derek McLane’s scenic design is detailed down to every backdrop and moving staircase. Catherine Zuber’s extravagant costumes give viewers a look into the society surrounding the Moulin Rouge, especially in “Only Girl in a Material World,” as Satine is forced to assimilate into the upper class by her wealthy admirer, the Duke of Monroth (Andrew Brewer). Zuber’s costumes emphasize class differences: the cabaret performers dressed in sensual and glittering corsets, the lower-class artists in simple garments and the upper-class duke in stylish modern pastels.
The musical’s book, written by John Logan, is an entertaining love story. However, it never fully fleshes out its characters and relationships, which often take a backseat to the spectacle of the show. While the story of the two young lovers is certainly entertaining, the most captivating moments are the production’s large ensemble numbers. Intimate moments, such as when the stage is populated with only a few actors, feel dull when they should be tense. Despite the love story at its center, the talented ensemble outshines any individual member of the show’s cast.
A true highlight of the musical is the innate connection between the members of its ensemble cast. With a fast-paced story and intense choreography throughout, the trust each performer has in their castmates must run deep. Sonya Tayeh’s dynamic choreography is the gift that keeps on giving, acting as a storytelling device and creating moments of euphoria for audience members. From start to end, each movement is deliberate and impressive, pairing perfectly with the musical’s intensely powerful orchestrations.