'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' a salty and sweet treat at Segerstrom
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is a rare and heady blend of spicy choreography and treacly sweet story—a perfect pre-holiday confection at Orange County’s Segerstrom Hall through Nov. 27, with the same consummate touring production that electrified the Hollywood Pantages last summer, directed by Alex Timbers.
With its book by John Logan, based on the 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, “Moulin Rouge” takes all its music from love (and other) songs of the past several decades, whipped up into an enjoyably frothy musical pastiche, the live orchestra directed by Andrew Graham. The cherry on top is sumptuous sets and lights, slinky costumes and some excellent performances. What’s not to lick, I mean like?
Set in Paris in 1899 at the Moulin Rouge club—where all your desires come true, according to its top-hat wearing owner and MC Harold Zidler (a well-cast Austin Durant)—the story centers on the club’s “diamond” entertainer Satine (a kittenish though spunky Courtney Reed) and fresh-off-the-boat young American Christian (an excellent Conor Ryan), who shows up at the club to pitch to Satine and Zidler his new “Bohemian” pals’ idea for a musical.
But Zidler has arranged for Satine to entertain the besotted rich Duke of Monroth (David Harris) that evening to secure the club’s financial future, creating quite the love triangle as the Duke wants to keep Satine for himself and Christian is willing to share whatever’s left—until he can’t take the way she’s treated any longer. Elton John’s “Your Song” becomes, well, their song, at first cutely romantic and then increasingly poignant.
The pals behind the revolutionary musical idea—espousing their Bohemian ideals of “truth, beauty, freedom, love”—include the injured Toulouse-Lautrec (a fabulously warm André Ward) and strong, silent and funny Argentinian Santiago (Gabe MartÍnez).
Santiago falls for sultry yet sulky Moulin Rouge performer Nini (a very nimble Libby Lloyd), both of them leading a raw second-act opening ensemble number (choreography by Sonya Tayeh) that cuts the first-act sweetness and prefigures the melodramatic depths of absinthe-fueled despair to come (no, you can’t have your cake and eat it too in France).
Though all the performers are talented, Ryan shines brightest, capturing Christian’s childlike exuberance, naïve dreaminess and hopeless romanticism, all while singing superbly. Ward as Toulouse and Durant as Zidler also offer strong and memorable performances, fully embodying their very different characters.
Exotic and lurid set design by Derek McLane is almost like another character, featuring a giant blue elephant and nested heart-shaped frames bedecked with lights (lighting by Justin Townsend) and saturated with reds, purples and pinks. Sound (Peter Hylenski) also reaches into the audience with throbbing bass beats, such as before the show when scantily-clad Moulin Rouge performers (costumes by Catherine Zuber) gaze sultrily out at the audience spreading their legs.
This show’s sensuality isn’t for the faint of heart, or the very young. But if you’re willing to get your Bohemian on, “Moulin Rouge” is an intoxicating song-and-dance party waiting to happen and inviting you in. Don’t miss it.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” continues at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, through Nov. 27, with performances Mondays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased online at SCFTA.org or by calling the box office at (714) 556-2787. Masks are optional. Run time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, plus intermission.