From Paris Cabaret to Broadway Stage: How Moulin Rouge Became a New York Staple

In 2001, audiences worldwide were captivated by the stunningly beautiful and passionate love story of Moulin Rouge! The movie, directed by Baz Luhrmann, was a feast for the senses, brimming with flamboyant costumes, stunning set designs, and a captivating soundtrack that masterfully blended contemporary pop with traditional musical theatre. This cinematic spectacle received immense popularity and critical acclaim, earning eight Academy Award nominations and winning two. The film was hailed for its modern, stylized take on the traditional musical genre, and it quickly amassed a devoted fan base.

Almost two decades later, the beloved film made its transition from the silver screen to the live stage and Moulin Rouge! The Musical was born. Adapted for Broadway by book writer John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall) and director Alex Timbers (American Utopia, Here Lies Love), the stage version of Moulin Rouge! debuted at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre in 2018 before making its way to Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre in 2019. From the onset, the musical was a hit, bringing the same energy, passion, and visual extravagance that fans of the film loved, coupled with the raw, electric thrill of live theatre. The musical has since become a staple on Broadway, proving that the atmosphere of the Moulin Rouge is alive and well in the center of New York City. The adaptation has not only brought the iconic film to life but has also expanded its universe, diving deeper into the characters and their stories while maintaining the core of what made the original so special.

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The Journey from Paris to Broadway

Moulin Rouge! The Musical draws its roots from timeless classics and real-life inspirations. The narrative of the pieceis heavily influenced by Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Boheme. Puccini’s tragic love story of struggling artists in 19th-century Paris echoes the relationships and circumstances of Satine and Christian in the musical. This couple, like Mimi and Rodolfo from La Boheme, share a passionate love that is ultimately met with a tragic end.

In addition to the 19th-century classic, the story of Moulin Rouge! also pays homage to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Satine, like Eurydice, is trapped in an underworld of sorts—the vulgar and unfair world of cabaret—while Christian, much like Orpheus, uses the power of his art, in this case, his writing, to try and save her.

The characters in Moulin Rouge! are also inspired by real-life figures. The character of Harold Zidler, the club’s impresario, is based on the real-life Charles Zidler, who co-founded the Moulin Rouge in 1889. The character of Satin, the tragic can-can dancer trapped in the Moulin Rouge by unfortunate circumstances in her life, was based on the French dancer Jane Avril.

The Broadway Adaptation

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a theatrical masterpiece, with key players in its production team working tirelessly to bring the magic of the original movie to the Broadway stage. Leading the charge is director Alex Timbers, known for his innovative and immersive staging. Timbers, along with a talented team of creatives, has brilliantly translated the glamor and bohemian spirit of the Moulin Rouge into a live theatrical experience.

The show’s plot adheres closely to the original film, with the romantic writer Christian falling for the beautiful courtesan Satine, who is also the star of the Moulin Rouge. Their love story unfolds against the backdrop of the noisy nightclub, with its larger-than-life characters, including the club’s owner Harold Zidler and the jealous Duke, who also seeks Satine’s affection.

The production design is an integral part of the show’s appeal. Set designer Derek McLane has created an environment that transports audiences to the world of Parisian cabaret, complete with red velvet drapes, glimmering chandeliers, and a massive signature red windmill on stage (Moulin Rouge is French for ‘Red Mill’). Costume designer Catherine Zuber’s stunning and decadent costumes further enhance the visual appeal, reflecting the flamboyance and extravagance of the cabaret and the spirit of those times.

The show’s score is a unique blend of popular hits from different eras, similar to the film. The score, arranged by Justin Levine, weaves together contemporary pop hits with timeless classics, creating a compelling soundscape that keeps the audience engaged and entertained. Some highlights include ‘Elephant Love Medley,’ ‘Material Girl,’ ‘Lady Marmalade,’ and ‘Come What May.’

This combination of a heartfelt story, stunning production design, and a memorable score allows the spirit of the iconic Parisian cabaret to come alive on the Broadway stage.

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The Timeless Love Story

At its core, the showis a tale of intense love and sacrifice, a theme that resonates deeply with audiences from all corners of the world. The central romance between Christian, a penniless writer, and Satine, a captivating courtesan, and star of the Moulin Rouge, is both passionate and heart-wrenching. Their love story, though set in the decadent world of a Parisian cabaret, is universal in its portrayal of love against all odds.

The chemistry between the characters, brilliantly portrayed by Casey Cott (Riverdale) and Courtney Reed (original Broadway cast of Aladdin), is palpable from their first encounter to their tragic end. The audience is drawn into their passionate affair, experiencing the highs of their love and the lows of their despair. Christian’s love for Satine leads him to risk everything, including his life and livelihood, while Satine’s love for Christian compels her to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect him.

The Show’s Impact and Lasting Appeal in New York                                                     

Moulin Rouge! The Musical has swiftly become a staple in New York’s active theatre scene and a shining star in the Broadway landscape.

The show has redefined the concept of a Broadway musical by seamlessly blending theatre tradition with modern pop culture. Moulin Rouge! has also contributed to the resurgence of jukebox musicals on Broadway, proving that with the right creative vision, these shows can be both artistically satisfying and successful among a broad scope of audiences.