I have loved Moulin Rouge! since I was a kid. I remember watching it with my mom and falling in love with Satine’s red dress. I remember watching it with my best friends time and time again to the point where if you give me a scene, I can probably still quote it from memory. So, when the announcement came that it was coming to Broadway, I had reservations.
All those reservations went out the door the minute I sat in the Al Hirshfield theater and was a part of Moulin Rouge like never before. I was lucky enough to have a friend who won the online lottery for the show, nabbing us the Can-Can seats. What I didn’t know was that meant that I would literally be part of the stage and be danced around as Christian and Toulouse were in the film.
The basic plot of both the movie and the musical are the same: Christian (Aaron Tveit) is a penniless writer who moves to France to be immersed in the ideals of the Bohemians, to live under the ideals of Freedom, Beauty, Truth, and Love. There, he meets Toulouse (Sahr Ngaujah) and Santiago (Ricky Rojas). The two are working on a musical together and Christian is to be their composer, his love songs something so beautiful that they want the world to hear them. The love song that convinces them? A hodge-podge of “I Don’t Want to Wait” by Paula Cole, “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, and “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Yes, we got Rick Rolled.
From there, Christian ends up falling in love with the Sparkling Diamond of the Moulin Rouge, Satine (Karen Olivo), despite her connection to the Duke (Tam Mutu), who is financing the musical that Christian is putting on with the other Bohemians. And then, a love triangle is formed, which is different from the film because, surprisingly, you want to like the Duke in the musical. It probably helps that he’s … very attractive.
The climax of the show falls into the same beats as the movie. Satine realizes she’s dying of consumption, thrust into a world of trying to live her truth while still trying to save her family at the Moulin Rouge from being left to the streets if she leaves the Duke. Before the show goes on, Satine decides that she’s hurt Christian enough with their love affair behind the Duke’s back and decides that she has to end their relationship, which leads to Christian singing the entire “El Tango De Roxanne” himself, and let me tell you, it is certainly a time. (Aaron Tveit cries throughout this entire song, so I cried and was also on a mental journey so please experience this.)
Much like the movie, Christian and Satine realize the two love each other enough that nothing else matters (which is easy for Satine to say, since she’s dying), and thus, she dies in his arms after they finish their performance of their musical, because all she wanted was for the world to know Christian’s love songs. So, instead of the music just being part of the story as it was in the movie without it being about his music, the musical makes a choice that Satine goes on and gets the show up and going so that the world can experience the love she felt as Christian sang these songs. It’s poetic in a new way that brought meaning to the wild amount of mashups throughout the production.
Dancers and actors swarmed around me, singing songs and sharing in the love story of Satine and Christian like I’d never seen before, and I sobbed while watching Satine long for her own freedom. (She sings this through Katy Perry’s “Firework,” so yes, I cried to “Firework,” and I have no shame about that.)
The show did make changes from the Baz Luhrmann classic. The Duke? A hot man who wants Satine to love him for himself and his money, and who appears in a lilac top hat at one point that had me saying, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” out loud. But what really struck me was the idea that neither of these men truly loved Satine. They loved specific ideas of her, and Satine, for all that she was, was still trying to find herself while struggling with her illness.
I felt a part of the show, in the thick of it all and thriving as one of the patrons of the Moulin Rouge, and I felt like everything I wanted to experience about this show was given to me and so much more. Is it maybe because it’s based on one of my favorite movies? Most definitely, but I loved watching a renewed version of Satine and Christian’s story come to life before my eyes, and if I could afford it, I’d be at the theater time and time again.
Sure, not everyone is going to experience this show from the Can-Can seats (and I’m extremely grateful to the lottery system for this show for giving us these seats) but that magic is something I will hold dear to me for a very long time.
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