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Wednesday, December 06, 2023

‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ est Splendide at the Hippodrome

When the doors to the auditorium open up at the historic Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore for this production, you are transported to the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France in 1899 and more specifically to the notorious Moulin Rouge cabaret club, the birthplace of the French can-can. In its opulent, vivid red splendor, the Moulin Rouge with its famous red windmill on the roof represents a bit of raunch and a bit of gaudy decadence with a French accent. Boundaries and restraint are words with no meaning here.

Naughty, racy, uninhibited, and sexiness are embodied in the twirling pastel petticoats of the high-kicking can-can dancers. This is the Moulin Rouge. It’s a place ‘where all your dreams come true.” And those dreams mean love in all its forms. From scenery that depicts large, three-dimensional, decorated heart-shaped Valentine’s Day candy boxes to scenery where “L’amour” is written across a screen, there is no doubt that love is the central theme. And at its core, this is a love story.

Behind a translucent curtain, as the audience files into this free-spirit environment, performers are seen moving about sensuously in slow motion, seducing one and all to a web of fantasy and no-limits. And when the curtain suddenly rises and the chorus opens the show with the vigorous “Lady Marmalade,” the seduction is complete.

Making a national tour stop in Baltimore that exceeds the length of the normal Hippodrome Broadway series run, Moulin Rouge! The Musical sets a high bar in theatrical creativity and pure beauty.

The show officially opened on Broadway July 25, 2019 and is still going strong. At the Covid-delayed 74th Tony Awards in September 2021, Moulin Rouge! The Musical garnered 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical from the 14 nominations. Other competitors included Jagged Little Pill and Tina—both eventual touring productions having played at the Hippodrome.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical with a book by John Logan is based on the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! This is a jukebox musical that deserves to be on the top shelf in that genre. Dozens of pop songs—some snippets and some fuller length depending on the rights bestowed upon the producers—are offered.

Just as the stage is a kaleidoscope of brilliant hues augmented by artistic scenery, imaginative lighting and over-the-top (in a good way) costuming, the music during this masterpiece is an eclectic brew of songs spanning decades and styles. Most are recognizable: from Madonna and Beyonce to Rick Astley and Whitney Houston, from Lady Gaga and Elton John to Tina Turner and Adele, the catalogue is limitless. Many of the songs had been added since the film version increasing texture to the emotions conveyed in the plot.

The musical is structured so that each main scene provides a track to move the story along, and each track contains a bunch of these songs. When the audience recognizes a number, even if it only a line or two, there is giggling throughout because of how the lyrics fit into the scene depicted. This offers a lighter touch to what is a more dramatic and serious storyline.

Set in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris, France, at the turn of the 20th century. The plot centers on Christian, a young American composer who moved to Paris to find himself and his capabilities. But before that could happen, he and his two Bohemian pals, the famous artist Toulouse-Lautrec and Argentinean dancer Santiago who are attempting to write music for a play, encounter Satine, the beautiful star of the Moulin Rouge cabaret club.

Despite its opulence on the surface, the Moulin Rouge is in financial trouble. Harold Zidler, the club’s director, believes that the only way to alleviate the pressure is to have the wealthy Duke of Monroth invest in the Moulin Rouge. And for that to happen, he implores Satine to provide the Duke the needed company to make him happy so that he may have a woman of his own.

Mistaking Christian for the Duke, Satine falls for the American instead, and he falls deeply for her, and the fateful triangle begins. Much of the ensuing drama occurs when the Duke with his dangerous past regarding women, fights to keep Satine for himself and tries to elevate her to his class of wealth. Who says, you can’t buy me love?

For her part, Satine, who is seriously ill from consumption (what was then tuberculosis), sacrifices her own happiness and love for Christian in order to save the Moulin Rouge and her friends’ jobs. All of this leads to an inevitably sad ending despite the jovial music and comedic moments throughout.

Tony Award and Golden Globe winning director Alex Timbers deftly keeps the show on point balancing the jubilant performances and atmospherics with the heart-tugging love story.

Veteran theatre and TV performer Robert Petkoff is superb as the caring and exuberant Harold Zidler. Drawing upon his cache of acting and comedic talents as well as a crystal clear commanding voice in both dialogue and song, Mr. Zidler handles the role with flair and the right amount of campiness.  

Substituting for Christian Douglas, the character Christian was played by Preston Taylor on the night this performance was reviewed.  He played the role tenderly and with convincing emotion. An outstanding vocalist, he appears in much of the music selections. Mr. Taylor's on-stage chemistry with Gabrielle McClinton as Satine is excellent, and everybody roots for the love-struck couple despite the odds.

"Moulin Rouge! The Musical sets a high bar in theatrical creativity and pure beauty."

Lovely Ms. McClinton excels as the talented Satine caught in a love triangle with no hopeful outcome given that Satine is slowly dying from an incurable disease.  She demonstrates beautiful vocals as evidenced with her duets with Mr. Taylor, which blend their voices perfectly.

As the wealthy Duke of Monroth, Andrew Brewer adeptly plays the villain role to the hilt. Showcasing a muscular voice in speaking and singing, Mr. Brewer is spot-on portraying the cruel and sneaky character.

Nick Rashad Burroughs as Toulouse-Lautrec and Danny Burgos as Santiago, the two Bohemian buddies and advisers of Christian, are effective in delivering comedic relief moments. Both sing and dance very well, and Mr. Burgos shines during the “Backstage Romance” track..

Rounding out the cast are Sarah Bowden as Nini, one of the dancers at the Moulin Rouge who had always been jealous of Satine; Nicci Claspell as Arabia and Harper Miles as La Choicolat who are other dancers at the club; Kamal Lado as Pierre and Max Heitmann as Baby Doll.

In addition, the Ensemble does and excellent job of portraying the other quirky characters and sing and dance with precision.

As good as the performances are, the technical team members are co-stars without exception. Brilliant scenic design by Derek McLane adds superb backdrops to the action using a variety of methods including drop-down scenery. These colorful sets are enhanced by the hue-rich lighting design by Justin Townsend. Catherine Zuber attired the cast in brilliantly colorful and lavish period costumes. Peter Hylenski’s sound design is flawless. Notably, all of these professionals received Tony Awards for their work in Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

An additional round of applause goes to the Musical Director Andrew Graham and the talented musicians in the orchestra.

Truth, beauty, freedom and love are the mantra of the Bohemians. In this production, you get some of each, but especially love. This splashy, well-performed spectacle is an experience that should not be missed.  

Be sure not to rush out of the theatre at curtain call, however, as the performers put on an electric, dance-dominated mini-show following their bows.

Oui, tout est permis au Moulin Rouge.

Running time. Two hours and 35 minutes with an intermission.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical runs through December 17 at the Hippodrome Theatre at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, 12 N. Eutaw St, Baltimore, MD 21201.  For tickets, call Ticketmaster at 800-982-ARTS or visit ticketmaster.com or BaltimoreHippodrome.com.

Photos: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade