I have been cautiously excited to write this post since we took our whirlwind trip to Boston a few weeks ago. A few people have asked what I thought of the show and I have SO MANY thoughts about it – both good and bad – and this post will serve mostly as a dumping ground for all of it. I’m not a musical critic or anything so if you found this page on google or something, you might wanna look elsewhere for a review from someone whose opinion actually matters 😉 These are my thoughts about Moulin Rouge! the musical. Spoilers ahead for those who don’t want to know the details of the stage show!!
For those of you who are unfamiliar, Moulin Rouge is a jukebox musical movie originally released in 2001. It’s an amazing movie with a beautiful story and message and stunning visuals. It’s been one of my favorites for years, so when it was announced that a stage show version was being produced, I knew we had to try to see it. We planned a crazy 12-hour trip to Boston to see the show in previews. I had read a few reviews going into it so I knew it was getting some very conflicting opinions, but I was excited to see for myself what they did with it. If you haven’t seen the movie this post is probably meaningless to you but …here we are. Again – SPOILERS AHEAD! If you don’t wanna know this is your final warning 🙂
So I want to preface this that while I have a lot of mixed feelings about the show (as you’ll read shortly), I genuinely did have a great time watching it. It’s fun, exciting, full of heart, and visually stunning. That being said – it was not what I was expecting. The biggest point that I think needs to be made clear is that Moulin Rouge the musical is NOT Moulin Rouge the movie. At first I was a bit sad about this, but I understood it and was prepared to treat them as separate works – even though I love the movie just the way it is. I figured the best way to talk about my likes/dislikes would be to go through a few different categories and outline the differences between movie vs. show, so that’s what we’re gonna do. We’ll start with setting the scene…
Set, Costumes & Dancing
First of all – one of the most impressive and amazing parts of the show was the set. I mean, look at this:
It’s BEAUTIFUL!!!!! I was in awe when we walked in – every part of it felt so perfect and really captured the tone of the movie well. I had high hopes that the rest of the show would meet those expectations as well. Honestly, all technical aspects of this show were legitimately stunning. The lighting design and costumes were perfect. It’s obvious they are chasing those Tony Awards.
Also, the choreography was GENIUS. The choreographer for this show is Sonya Tayeh, who I’ve been a fan of since she did choreo for So You Think You Can Dance several years ago. Here’s a performance she choreographed years ago that I remember being completely mesmerized by the first time I saw it:
She’s a genius and her choreography is so unique and full of emotion, and Moulin Rouge was no exception. The dancing in the show was definitely a highlight, particularly in the Bad Romance mashup and El Tango de Roxanne. And again – they’re after that Tony.
So this is where the MAJOR differences start coming in. The show started off really fun and exciting, opening with a “Lady Marmalade” medley (check out the wikipedia page for a full list of songs included in this medley and others). It set the mood for the show nicely, with some iconic songs from the movie as well as some new additions.
However – it was early in the show that I noticed a lot of songs missing that were included in the original film. I had read in reviews before the show that the musical numbers had been reimagined to include more modern pop songs, featuring artists like Lorde, Katy Perry, Sia, and Lady Gaga. I was hesitantly optimistic about these additions – the original movie includes Madonna, U2, David Bowie, Queen, Phil Collins… so it didn’t seem all that crazy to substitute some more modern artists. But as the show continued, I started to feel like some of the song choices were a bit…off.
Something about the original movie was that all the songs included felt specifically chosen for the moments they were included in the plot. They all had a special kind of status that made it seem like they were a worthy choice to be included. I do not feel that was the case with the stage show. Some choices just felt a little weird (like a medley that included “Shut Up and Dance” and “Raise Your Glass”); others felt very weird (“Never Gonna Give You Up”). At times it literally felt like they had just turned on the radio and decided to include whatever song played at the time. It was also kind of distracting because some of the song choices were obviously kind of silly or unexpected, so the audience would laugh when they recognized a new song, and it took away from the experience. The first noticeable time this happened for us was during a mashup of “Royals” by Lorde and “We Are Young” by fun. It was also then that I started to wonder where we were going with these song mashups. It was starting to feel like an episode of Glee – not made any better by the fact that the writers made Christian’s hometown Lima, Ohio, where Glee takes place (seriously…?).
That being said there was also an AMAZING mashup of Bad Romance/Toxic/Tainted Love/Sweet Dreams that completely blew me away. So there is definitely a way to do mashups well – I just felt like it was really overkill and they tried to add too many new songs where it wasn’t necessary. To show you what I mean, here are the songs included in the original Elephant Love Medley (one of my all time favs) in the film:
Versus the ones included in the musical:
There’s almost twice as many songs in the musical, and it just felt like too much. I guess I get why they made certain additions – but the movie version was already perfect so why change it???
AGAIN I don’t want to make it sound like I hated the music in the show. The songs that were included from the film were all beautiful. “Come What May” and “Your Song” were both included, and I enjoyed both performances (though the former was used in a different context than the film). However… there were some noticeable omissions that made me really sad.
My first major, major disappointment came with Satine’s first solo song. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Satine sings “One Day I’ll Fly Away”, about leaving her life behind at the Moulin Rouge and moving on to better things. In the show, Satine’s character is a bit different (imo) and she has different motivations, which I’ll talk more about later. But the point is – they replaced this with a different song. And that song is “Firework” by Katy Perry.
FIREWORK. Firework. Of all the songs they could have chosen. Firework. I just don’t understand. It felt so out of place and maybe I’m just too blinded by my love for the movie, but I was just really disappointed at the change. I actually wonder if they couldn’t get the rights to the song or something and had to substitute something else? Karen Olivo sounded BEAUTIFUL singing it – but it just made me sad that I didn’t get to hear her sing “One Day I’ll Fly Away” instead.
The second major omission that I disliked was “The Show Must Go On”. In the movie I feel like this is one of the most important songs leading up to the climax of the final performance, and Satine’s death. It really drives home the point that it’s life or death at the Moulin Rouge, and despite the fact that Satine is LITERALLY DYING, she knows that she has to put on a brave face and continue for the good of everyone. It’s a defining moment for Satine and Zidler, and I was a little surprised and let down that it was cut from the show. There’s even a moment that Satine says a line ending in “…the show must go on”, and then Zidler is on the stage by himself and I fully expected to be treated to a stunning Danny Burstein rendition of the song – but nope. Idk. I don’t mean to ramble on about how sad it made me that they cut songs out haha but to me this one in particular is such a major defining moment of the movie that I wish it had been included, so much. I hope that maybe they’ll add it when it goes to Broadway.
Those aren’t the only songs they cut out – like I said, you can compare the wikipedia pages for the show and the film if you want to see them all – but those were the two that hit the hardest for me. I don’t want to end this section on a disappointed note so I’ll wrap it up by saying there were a LOT of really amazing musical moments and the vocal talent of the cast could not have been better. Satine’s entrance as the sparkling diamond was a showstopper, and I also really really loved the performance from Christian and Satine of “Rolling in the Deep”. And of course, it goes without saying that “Roxanne” was TRULY incredible. There were many song choices that felt like they fit as perfectly as the original ones for the movie, that didn’t feel as forced – so it’s unfortunate that (imo) they missed the mark so many times. Of course my opinion doesn’t matter anyway and I’m sure tons of people loved the song choices, but I wish that they wouldn’t have changed so much. And that’s that on that.
Okay, now that I scared everyone away with my crazy rambling about the music, let’s get into the plot. On paper it’s mostly the same as the movie – Christian and Satine accidentally meet and fall in love, Satine is supposed to be with the Duke, hijinks ensue. Satine is forced to pretend to love the Duke and renounce Christian, there’s lots of tension, eventually the truth comes out despite everything and Satine declares her love for Christian in a stunning finale before dying of tuberculosis. It’s a heartbreaking story that builds steadily over the course of the film, with several factors playing in to the tragic ending. The whole film is intense, passionate, and heavy with emotion.
However. There’s a slight tonal shift to the musical that I haven’t really been able to put into words until recently, and I finally figured it out. The musical’s Moulin Rouge feels more “safe” than the film. In the movie, like I mentioned above it’s kind of a feeling of life or death. The Moulin Rouge is dangerous, Zidler is a ringmaster who pushes his performers to do what he needs them to do, Satine’s sickness looms over the scene. In the musical, however – as a whole, it’s lighter. I understand if they wanted to adapt it to the stage to be not quite as heavy as the original film…but this show doesn’t have a happy ending!! It’s not family friendly and it doesn’t need to be. Zidler in this iteration feels more loving and fatherly to the performers, almost like they’re all just a gang of misfits trying to stay afloat. Satine is less “every woman for herself” and more “we have to keep our family together” (as evidenced by her solo song change, imo). But I’ll talk more about the specific characterization changes in the next section.
The point is, the Moulin Rouge on stage just doesn’t feel as dark as it does in the movie. On screen it’s made clear that Satine loving Christian instead of the Duke is life-threateningly dangerous, and could cause serious problems for her, Christian, and the whole of the Moulin Rouge. On the stage, it’s not as serious and doesn’t really seem like as much of a big deal when she decides to renounce the Duke with seemingly no consequences. He threatens to have Christian killed if she continues with him, and yet there doesn’t really seem to be any kind of urgency or motivation to stop on Satine’s part (I fully believe that the addition of “The Show Must Go On” would have fixed/helped this!!). In addition, Satine’s tuberculosis is almost an afterthought in the show, only referenced a few times and then once and for all when she suddenly collapses at the end.
Speaking of which – a major change in the show was how Satine died. First of all, Christian is on stage with her and there’s this weird part where he vaguely threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t choose him over the Duke, or something? Idk. It felt out of place and odd. And then, when she dies, Christian is holding her and the rest of the company kind of gather around and lift her up while Christian ends the show center stage, alone. I found this to be very disappointing – while it’s the most heartbreaking part of the film and I frequently turn the movie off before she dies to keep myself from crying, Satine’s death in the film is so memorable and iconic. She uses the last of her strength to finish her declaration of love to Christian and with her last breath asks him to tell their story. Literally, the curtain closes upon her death. Christian’s realization that she died is so raw and purely emotional. This ending is just so poetic, so perfectly complete and sad, it just feels like the most tragically beautiful ending to the story. So it was really disappointing when the musical version was basically her coughing into a bloody tissue a few times and collapsing. I felt like despite the impressive performance of both leads, the story just wasn’t emotional enough to do justice to the story. It lacked the pure passion of Moulin Rouge the movie. And again – maybe I have my movie-fan blinders on and that’s keeping me from having a completely open mind for the musical, but that’s just how I felt.
But I still cried at the ending a lot, so maybe I just like crying.
Characters & Casting
For the purposes of this section you may want to check out this Playbill article, which has a photo gallery of side by side images of movie vs. musical actors for each character. I was too lazy to make my own and didn’t wanna steal theirs so here you go.
So anyway. First off, early on we meet Harold Zidler, the owner of the Moulin Rouge, played by Danny Burstein. This is the first of many characters that I felt were “reimagined” from screen to stage. Zidler in the musical is more…I guess, soft? than in the movie version. He seemed more loving towards the performers of the Moulin Rouge rather than like their boss. I explained above how I felt like this softened the show as a whole. However, this is not to say that I didn’t enjoy Danny Burstein’s performance. I thought he brought a good amount of seriousness and silliness to the role, and was believable as the Zidler that was written for him. I felt he captured the over the top-ness of Zidler really well. I do kinda hope that they make the character a bit more serious and closer to the film when the show goes to Broadway, especially because I think Danny Burstein is more than capable of playing that role with a quiet possessiveness and just a touch of bad intentions. I think it would be a much more nuanced version of the character and would make him more interesting as a whole.
Soon after we meet Christian, the male lead originally played by Ewan McGregor. In this adaptation, it’s Aaron Tveit – a broadway star that I’ve been obsessed with since I was like 17. His casting in the lead role was a big factor in us deciding to go see it in previews. They had previously released a video of him singing “Come What May”, an original song from the movie. I watched this video approximately 300 times leading up to our trip.
His voice is amazing in the role, as expected. He’s an even better performer in person and I was so happy to finally get to see him live. I found his Christian to be different than Ewan McGregor’s, though – he seemed a bit more innocent and wide-eyed in a way. I saw a reviewer describe him as “more Boy Scout” and I think that really hits the nail on the head. Movie Christian was more hopeless romantic, where musical Christian was more eager-to-find-himself-and-maybe-also-fall-in-love. I felt that in the movie, Christian was a little darker and more sensual, and I wish that had been carried over to the show a little more.
We also meet Christian’s pals Toulouse and Santiago (above), previously known only as “the narcoleptic Argentinian” in the movie. I enjoyed both of these characters but Santiago really stole the show for me. Toulouse was great but he unfortunately had a few really odd and ultimately poor song choices in my opinion. That’s nothing against either actor though – I thought both of them were great and I hope they continue with the show to Broadway.
The Duke in the show is played by the dashingly handsome Tam Mutu, who I honestly believe is too pretty for the role. In the movie the Duke is meant to be slimy, crazy, unattractive, and slightly evil – meaning Satine really has to work to pretend to be attracted to him. I didn’t really get that from the musical. It’s more like…this is a really rich dude who’s also really pretty, but he’s kind of douchey sometimes. He showed some signs of being more evil in the second act, but I wish they would have put more emphasis on him being really nasty earlier on.
Seriously – no shade towards Richard Roxburgh – but I just don’t really think these are similar enough looks here lol
But let’s talk some more about Satine. In the movie it’s Nicole Kidman, who is truly dazzling – it’s one of my favorite roles of hers. In the musical Satine is Karen Olivo, a Tony Award winner who I previously saw in West Side Story. She’s incredible and beautiful and so talented, and I was so excited to see her as the lead. Like movie vs. musical Christian, there was a bit of a difference between movie vs. musical Satine. To me, movie Satine was more focused on herself and doing anything she could to survive and make her life better. Musical Satine focuses more on bettering the lives of those she works with, her “family” at the Moulin Rouge. I think this kinda sorta explains the change from “One Day I’ll Fly Away” to “Firework”, but I still don’t really think it was a necessary change for the record!!
Karen is so glamorous as Satine, the “sparkling diamond”, and her voice is so powerful that I was in awe whenever she opened her mouth. She was a joy to watch and I’m glad I got to see her perform again. I also absolutely loved the ensemble cast. All the dancers were so talented and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of them!
All in all I loved the cast – but – I never thought I would say this before I saw the show, but I actually prefer the original Christian and Satine to their musical counterparts. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Karen and Aaron in the roles and I do prefer their singing voices. I just think there’s something so perfect about the pairing of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, and the way they played those characters. As a whole the characters were lighter in the show and I feel that they could have explored that darkness a little more. And I fully admit that this may be just because I’m so in love with the movie, but at this point I think that’s an established fact that I don’t need to acknowledge any more haha
Okay I guess we’re finally at the end of this review? I don’t really know what else I can say that I haven’t said in 3000 words already. I’m really not liking how this post is making it seem like I hated the show haha… I promise I didn’t!! I just loved the movie so much that I was slightly disappointed by how the stage show was different. Also I pride myself on my ability to critique things I like for their flaws while still enjoying them 😇
Anyway – overall I did enjoy the show. It was fun, bright, beautiful, with some stunning visuals that did justice to the movie and an amazingly talented cast. I’m glad that we went to see it so I could have my own opinion, and because it’s fun to look back and say that we took a 12 hour trip to Boston just for this. But at the end of everything, it just made me want to go home and watch the movie. I enjoyed the musical for what it was, but I feel that it lacked some of the same depth and emotional maturity that the movie had. I feel like they wanted to make it different from the movie in order to distinguish them as separate works – but I guess I just don’t really understand why. I don’t really think there’s anything in the movie that couldn’t have been translated to the stage, as is the case with some shows that started as films first – and even still, there are plenty of films-turned-stage-shows that made necessary changes that didn’t feel like they cheapened the show as a whole (Newsies, Legally Blonde, Lion King!!). The movie is completely perfect as it is, so I just don’t really get why they felt the need to change so much. I’m wondering if my opinions would be different if I had never seen the movie before and was going in blind – but I guess we’ll never know that answer! I’m very curious to see what happens when it goes to Broadway, and I’m sure despite everything it will be successful and get a lot of Tony nominations, because everyone in it is so ridiculously talented.
Okay that’s finally it!! If you were crazy enough to read all my sporadic and incoherent thoughts, I thank you for that. If you’ve seen the show, I would love to hear your thoughts and if you agree or disagree with anything I said! I had a lot of fun at the show despite the things I disliked, and it only made me love one of my favorite movies even more so I’d say it was a success in the end. Thanks so much for reading! ❤