REVIEW: "MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL" The North American Tour —Segerstrom Center for the Arts

Updated: Nov 15


COSTA MESA - NOV 12, 2022

Enter a world of splendor and romance, of eye-popping excess, of glitz, grandeur and glory! A world where Bohemians and aristocrats rub elbows and revel in electrifying enchantment. Pop the champagne and prepare for the spectacular spectacular... Welcome to Moulin Rouge! The Musical. By this time you’ve no doubt seen the movie. But now, Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary film comes to life onstage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts through November 27th, remixed in a modern musical mash-up extravaganza.


Covering over 50 pop hits that span decades, this sparking diamond of jukebox musicals may be considered Broadway’s biggest karaoke night. A theatrical celebration of truth, beauty, freedom and — above all — LOVE, Moulin Rouge! is more than simply a musical; it’s a state of mind. How wonderful life is...at the Moulin Rouge.


Conor Ryan as Christian, Gabe MartÍnez as Santiago, André Ward as Toulouse-Lautrec and Austin Durant as Harold Zidler in the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

A harbinger of the cancan, a dance inspired by the French quadrille, a new kind of cabaret opens in 1889 at the foot of the Parisian Montmartre hill, designed for the very rich to come and slum it up in a fashionable district. Nicknamed “The First Palace of Women,” the Moulin Rouge was an instant success, igniting both lubricious adolescent fantasies and old men’s wishful thinking. Joseph Oiler and Charles Zidler never designed it for tired, decadent people, only for glorious romantics, who believe in the glitz and the tinsel — who see the nightclub not as a shabby tourist trap but as a stage for their dreams.


So get ready for song, dance, spectacular production numbers, protestations of love, exhalations of regret, vows of revenge and grand destructive gestures. You could compare it to being trapped on an elevator with the circus, led by a wildly entertaining ringmaster impresario named Harold Zidler (Austin Durant, who delivers a master class in pandering seediness).


The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

The transactional element is signaled from the get-go. Derek McLane’s psychedelic valentine of a set — a decadent cornucopia of nesting pink hearts — is on full display when the audience arrives. And it is soon inhabited by corseted men and women with proffering gazes (the plush, sin-ready costumes are by Catherine Zuber). Men with top hats and curled mustaches join these creatures of the night amid plush, red-velvet banquettes and gold trimmed furnishings. A large red glistening windmill churns on one side of the stage. On the other is a jeweled elephant – a behemoth that encompasses a complete box seat. Two women dressed in garters and bustiers swallow swords in unison — prompting applause and whoops from the audience.


At this point, you may think you’ve wandered into a Gallic variation of “Cabaret,” or immersive naughty nightclub pieces like Alexander Chee’s “Queen of the Night.” But when star dancer Satine (Courtney Reed) makes her entrance on a trapeze, singing “Diamonds Are Forever” with a Shirley Bassey huskiness, she emotes just the sort of flower that would grow from such fecund soil.


The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

But wait. There’s a young man who sees her soul beneath the spangles, and who exudes the glowing naïveté of an American innocent newly arrived in Sodom. That’s Christian (a shining Conor Ryan) in the role of a penniless composer, who’s been brought to the Moulin Rouge by his newfound friends, Santiago, an Argentinean (Gabe Martinez, a triple threat who rocks the audiences for Nini with his moves in the steamy medley “Bad Romance/Tainted Love/Seven Nation Army/Toxic/Sweet Dreams are Made of This”) and Toulouse-Lautrec (a wonderfully delightful Andre Ward).


Gifted, eccentric, and suffering from a congenital bone disorder, Mr. Ward’s Toulouse-Lautrec (the prolific artist who was portrayed by John Leguizamo in Luhrmann’s 2001 film) and his partner Santiago soon spark a business collaboration with Christian: They will write a show to spotlight Satine's brilliance, as well as "truth, beauty, freedom and love."


Adéa Michelle Sessoms and Jennifer Wolfe in the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

The show must be financed; enter the venal Duke of Monroth (a magnificent David Harris), who gnashes his way into the fantasy and agrees to fund Satine’s next production in exchange for her engagement to him. As the young lovers, Christian and Satine, steal kisses and meet in secret, her wedding day draws closer with the Duke. Still, she hides a fatal secret from them all. She is dying of consumption, or tuberculosis, also known in that era as the "Great White Plague," striking down young and old, rich and poor alike with no discretion. This is not a secret from the audience, who learns it early on, but it is for Christian (Conor Ryan), who has by now fallen madly in love with her.


The ensemble was more than flawless and the actors embody their characters to perfection. Satine, the leggy brunette who wears her sex appeal like a suit of armor, is portrayed as a feral survivor of the streets who began turning tricks at 13. Like Harold Zidler, her partner in deception, she sees love — or the illusion of it — as a commodity for profit.


Conor Ryan as Christian and Courtney Reed as Satine in the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

Mr. Ryan’s Christian is a lovelorn man who embraces with his eyes and sighs — whose very essence, who’s entire being, is composed of a deep need for Satine. Toulouse-Lautrec is perpetually flamboyant and romantic; Zidler pretends to be all business but is a softy; Santiago is an eternal romantic, and although the Duke is one to dupe others easily enough, he is himself easily duped. A possible moral? Those who think they can buy affection are suckers; a wise man is content to rent it.


Part of the genius of Mr. Luhrmann’s original film version — which starred Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor as doomed lovers in a Bohemian, fin-de-siècle Paris — was that it put mainstream, latter-day radio songs into the context of a verismo costume opera like “La Traviata.” Not for nothing was Elton’s John’s “Your Song” the ballad most memorably shared by the leading lovers. Perhaps that’s because it was your song, too. By dressing up the melodies you sang in the shower in opulent gaslight-era drag, Mr. Luhrmann created an equalizing paean to love ballads of all ages.


And the creators of this spectacle — directed with wit and heart by Mr. Timbers, with seductive, funny choreography by Sonya Tayeh and creative musical direction by Andrew Graham — have tinkered artfully with their archetype, translating the cinematic splendors of Mr. Luhrmann’s universe into more earthly pleasures, capturing its sensibility in theater lover’s language. Yet, in all its heartstrings-tugging, alarmingly effective glory, it has managed to attain a magical balance of wallowing unapologetically in edgy emotion while also not taking itself too seriously.


Its construction is like the melodrama of a 19th century opera, the Technicolor brashness of a 1950s Hollywood musical and the quick-cutting frenzy of a music video. Its pieces zoom through the air like candy-colored shrapnel, hits from Lady Gaga, Florence and the Machine, OutKast, Katy Perry – everyone from Pink to The Talking Heads – all whizzing by before the memory can tag them and make those familiar and once revered pop hits of long-ago sound enticingly exotic again, as if their characters might have invented them right on the spot.

Yes...more than simply a musical — It's a state of mind.


SEGERSTROM CENTER FOR THE ARTS PRESENTS, MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL; Based on the 2001 Twentieth Century Studios Motion Picture, Written and Directed by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, with Book by John Logan; Direction: Alex Timbers. Choreography: Sonya Tayeh. Dance Arrangements: Justin Levine/Matt Stine. Music Director: Andrew Graham. Musical Supervisor/Co-Orchestration/Arrangements/Additional Lyrics: Justin Levine. Co-Orchestrators: Katie Kresek/Charlie Rosen/Matt Stine. Production Stage Manager: Jeff Norman. Scenic Design: Derek McLane. Lighting Design: Justin Townsend. Sound Design: Peter Hylenski. Costume Design: Catherine Zuber. Hair Design: David Brian Brown. Makeup Design: Sarah Cimino. Creative Services: Baz Luhrmann/Catherine Martin. Casting: Jim Carnahan/Stephen Kopel.

WITH: Courtney Reed, Conor Ryan, Austin Durant, Andre Ward, David Harris, Libby Lloyd, Gabe Martinez, Nicci Claspell, Andres Quintero, Adrienne Balducci, Andrew Brewer, Jack Cahill-Lemme, Sam J. Cahn, Darius Crenshaw, Alexander Gil Cruz, Alexa De Barr, Tamrin Goldberg, Alexis Hasbrouck, Jordan Fife Hunt, Justin Keats, Tyler John Logan, Tanisha Moore, Brayden Newby, Fred Odgaard, Kent Overshown, Ayden Pratt, Amy Quanbeck, Adea Michelle Sessoms, Jenn Stafford, Travis Ward-Osborne, Sharrod Williams, Jennifer Wolfe, Ricardo A. Zayas.


ORCHESTRA: Conductor Andrew Graham, Associate Conductor Jennifer Oikawa, Mark Pardy, Rajiv Halim, Adam Roebuck, Tim Morey, Joe Parker, Marcus Vann, Chuck Bontrager, Kelsee Vandervall.


“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” runs November 9th through November 27th with performances on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30PM; Monday, November 21st at 7:30PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 7:30PM, and Sundays at 1PM and 6:30PM at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Segerstrom Hall, 600 Town Center Dr, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased at www.scfta.org.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report

www.theshowreport.org