Friday, August 9, 2019

Broadway Theater Review: Moulin Rouge

Danny Burstein. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Moulin Rouge! 
Book by John Logan
Music by various artists
Choreography by Sonya Tayeh
Directed by Alex Timbers
Al Hirschfeld Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
It's a love story set against the seedy streets and Bohemia of turn-of-the-century Paris. This production has been seeing good traction at the New York Box Office following a sold-out run at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre last summer. Word of mouth about the over-the-top optics has fueled some of the rusg to see the newest musical written by John Logan (Red) and helmed by Alex Timbers It's hard to imagine topping the big/wow factor for Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and Beetlejuice, but he does...)

Here's the gist: The Moulin Rouge Theater is going bankrupt under the management of Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein). He persuades his star chanteuse, Satine (Karen Olivo), to do what ever is necessary to attract the Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu) and get him to put some of his considerable fortune into the theater's next show (so much for seeing better roles for women on Broadway in the Me Too Era, I suppose....) Meanwhile, songwriter Christian (the golden-voiced Aaron Tveit) agrees to pitch a new musical written by friends Toulouse Lautrec (a moving Sahr Ngaujah) and ladies' man Santiago (Ricky Rojas).  After some mistaken identity, Christian and Santine become lovers and continue down a dangerous road as they and the other members of the acting roup, keep their passion a secret from the possessive and violent Monroth.

As in the film, the musical celebrates some of the greatest popular music of the last 50 years -- some with just a line or two and others will full song (music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements by Justin Levine who also joined Timbers for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).The stage musical features many of the iconic songs from the movie (the credits in the program are microscopic there are so many -- the folks in charge of copyright clearance for this show deserve a raise). It  also includes recent hits released since the movie's  premiere almost 20 years ago when it was nominated for eight Oscars, including best [icture.

What Are the Highlights?
Derek McLane's sumptuous sets and Justin Townsend 's lighting design (perfection)  are ooh la la!  They, with Timbers, make this bigger than life. Performers pose and interact on stage in the house, and event overhead in the boxes where a colossal elephant and windmill expand the setting on either side.  Get there early. This show has the best pre-show action on a Broadway stage.

It's posh and encompassing, much like the Moulin Rouge itself. which started life as a popular cabaret and dance hall, then became an iconic music hall in the Roaring Twenties, then a theater where numerous famous French and international artistes stepped out into the limelight.

Aaron Tveit's voice is as smooth and delightful as always and it is so good to hear him singing on a Broadway stage again -- it has been a while since Catch Me if You Can and Next to Normal.

Just as the pre-show is terrific, the curtain call is spectacular too. Don't slip out early on this one.

What Are the Lowlights?
Olivo, who wowed in West Side Story,  is miscast in this role. The music doesn't fit her voice and she and Tveit have no chemistry. Burstein seems out of place in his role as well, trying hard to sell the boisterous pimp of a theater manager.

Even more troubling is the question that keeps coming to mind throughout the two -hour, 35-plus minute show: Is this a comedy or drama? It often is hard to tell. Things are pretty serious until about 20 minutes in when some song choices bring laughter from the audience. This continues throughout because some of the lyrics are really hokey where they are sung. That makes us think it is on purpose. But other songs are dramatic and most of those have us wondering why that particular song was chosen when many others more suited come to mind. It's confusing and takes us out of the story.

More information:
Moulin Rouge! The Musical plays at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th St., NYC. A block of tickets recently was released through July 2020.

Additional casting: Robyn Hurder as Nini. Ensemble: Amber Ardolino, Jacqueline B. Arnold, Olutayo Bosede, Kyle Brown, Sam J. Cahn, Max Clayton, Karli Dinardo, Aaron C. Finley, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Bahiyah Hibah, Ericka Hunter, Holly James, Evan Kinnane, Reed Luplau, Jeigh Madjus, Morgan Marcell, Caleb Marshall, Brandt Martinez, Jodi McFadden, Kaitlin Mesh, Kevyn Morrow, Fred Odgaard, Dylan Paul, Khori Michelle Petinaud and Benjamin Rivera

Additional credits: Catherine Zuber (costumes); Peter Hylenski (sound), Drama David Brian Brown (wig and hair design); Sarah Cimino (Make-up design).

-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Mature themes

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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