Entering the former Oriental movie theatre lobby, reinvigorated in 2019 as the James M. Nederlander Theatre, excitement was in the air. We theatregoers were all anxious to get a sneak preview of “Moulin Rouge: The Musical” before its March 19 opening date. When I say ‘we’ I mean the Chicago press and media. We all think we have seen it all but when the doors to the theatre opened, and our eyes settled on the stage, there were gasps, giggles, and the word “WOW” was used a lot. We were impressed.
The set is a multi-dimensional stage lit and shadowed in the color of decadent red and lights. It has the feel of a boudoir. Stage left (the audience’s left), a windmill is lit up with the blades slowly turning. Stage right is a big blue elephant.
On the stage the cast, framed in sexy poses, invites the audience to come, partake, enjoy, and lose themselves in the experience of Moulin Rouge. Yes, the experience begins before you take your seat. When the first strains of the song “Lady Marmalade” begins, you know it’s going to be a great and lively evening.
The location is Paris, the year is 1900, and Moulin Rouge is a place where both Bohemians and aristocrats can pop champagne and enjoy an evening of “Can Can” music, beautiful women, and song.
Of course, there is romance. Christian (played by Conor Ryan), a young poet and writer, falls in love with Satine (played by Courtney Reed), the star of “Moulin Rouge,” but alas she is promised to “The Duke.” How can their love prevail when so much is against them?
After our sneak peek, I spoke with Austin Durant who plays Harold Zidler, Moulin Rouge’s MC. Austin described Harold as, “The impresario of the Moulin Rouge, the hottest nightclub in Paris. We’re at the turn of the century. I think he’s the embodiment of the passion and desire and sensuality of the show. He’s a showman of the first order, and that is to say, he’s covering for something.”
Behind the velvet and glitter, Harold is in major debt and has to find a way to save the show.
The set, music, and story are the heart of “Moulin Rouge: The Musical,” however, the dance and movement are the blood. Award-winning choreographer Sonya Tayeh blends several styles of dance to pump the flow into the production.
I asked Sonya what is the hardest part or the most intricate part of the choreography that goes into getting the story across?
“Oh, my goodness, this is so silly to say, but all of it, because the dance really pushes the narrative. There are so many big dance moments in the show, so the whole show is in motion. So, the challenge is to maintain that motion, maintain the train and make sure it’s going in the right direction.”
Tayeh said the Chicago audience will see in this production of “Moulin Rouge: The Musical” hyper dynamic movement, and highly physical movement. Audiences will see subtlety and nuance. Elaborating, she commented, “It’s a whole bag of layered beauty from the design to the direction, to the choreography, to the music. It’s all such a beautiful synergy to me.”
“Moulin Rouge: The Musical” will be at the James M. Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., March 19 to May 14. For more information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.
Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!