Moulin Rouge In Previews At Al Hirschfeld Theatre, Saturday, July 20th, 2019, Reviewed
The Broadway Jukebox Musical take of the Baz Luhrmann’s Dennis Potter for morons movie “Moulin Rouge,” though still in previews, wowed the folks in the audience at the Al Hirschfeld after wowing the audience at the out of town tryouts in Boston last month. But it is the story of ever decreasing rewards.
Pre-show – A+
Act One – C-
Act Two – D-
Before the show starts, the star is the stagecraft and immersion as strippers gotta strip and elephant trunks gotta be phallic. It reminded me a little of Cabaret’s Kit Kat club in the New York 1998 production, the same breaking through the fourth wall. We’ve seen it recently in “Network” and “the Play That Went Wrong” and the late lamented (and vastly superior) Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. But if anything,the anticipatory glow is even stronger with “Moulin Rouge”. A restructuring, yet again, of the just about infinitely superior Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme”. And before it starts, you can convince yourself that you are somewhere between Rock Of Ages and Chicago, a wide, ear to ear smirk of indolence, and sex, and the infamous club in Paris, no less.
That ends pretty quickly. An early “Lady Marmalade” finds the director Alex Timbers (a man I’ve really enjoyed in the past, he directed Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at the Public) incapable of using the stage set up for very much. We’d imagined for an experience where the stage and the seats intermingled, but the moment it kicks in the fourth wall goes back up and it is business as usual. Back at Moulin Rouge, the evening is being set up so uber-courtesan Satine (a competent Karen Olivo) can do a smart ten minute, glib to the point of cynicism (and the better for it) medley of “Diamonds Are Forever,” “Material Girl,” “Single Girls (Put A Ring On It)” and “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” -funny enough though just catch Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and your admiration will falter fast.
“Moulin Rouge” is going bankrupt and the owner Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein) is ready to pimp out Satine to The Duke Of Monroth (Tam Matu) and save the day. Meanwhile Christian (way too old for the role Aaron Tveit) has wandered in from a revival of Cabaret as the innocent abroad, wanting to make it as a songwriter and meets up with Touluse-Lautrec (Sahr Ngaujah) who has zero to do with the gifted artist and Santiiago (Rick Rojas) as his sidekick, who want to sell a show to the nightclub. Through a series of feints and misadventures, Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke and the rest is hell. So far we’ve heard everything from “Fresh And Clean” to “Royals” (in the one good joke of the entire night, segued into “Children Of The Revolution”), and finally, the love sonata “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” “Take On Me,” “Heroes” (echoing Bowie in the movie), “Everlasting Love” and back to back with “Your Song”. End of act one. And, no, it wasn’t as exciting as the preshow promised, it was too Vegas, and somewhat mindless, but at least it didn’t take itself too serious.
Act Two takes itself too seriously: an unmitigated disaster, of bad writing topped by indifferent writing, topped by over acting: the show slows to a crawl, the plot becomes riddled with stupidity (the play within a play mirrors the true state of the story: didn’t “Hamlet” teach them anything?), The Duke buys Satine (a bit of a waste of money, she is dying from consumption), Christian goes crazy with jealousy, And Satine and Christian sing “Come What May” to each other as punishment. Among the worst second acts in musical history, the unbearable and nonsense mush goes on and on, these affected, self-important tragedians are beyond incompetent as they cannibalize Rent (Aaron was in an early production -did I mention he is too old for the role?) and anything else they can get their hands on.
Nothing about any of this is remotely good but it looks pretty and if they had kept it light… instead it sinks and sludges beyond belief till it ends in tears, for me tears of boredom.