The audience arrives in Baltimore, decked out in red, black, and sequins and is expecting to be entertained. “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”—the touring, Tony Award-winning Broadway show with a book by John Logan and directed by Alex Timbers—is now playing at the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore and does not disappoint. This musical is nothing if not sultry, opening with players wandering on stage one by one, pacing slowly like wild cats in heat and basking in the powerful, red glow that consumes the stage. At no point does it allow the audience to relax. With the overhead scanning spots, the frenetic energy on stage, confetti cannons, oversized sets, and monumental singing, there is not a moment that does not thrill.
With the overhead scanning spots, the frenetic energy on stage, confetti cannons, oversized sets, and monumental singing, there is not a moment that does not thrill.
The musical itself is simple and derivative, more an homage to a genre. Consumption is an all too common plot element in 19th century drama (think “Camille,” “La Boheme,” and “La Traviata”). The first little cough or faint by the heroine is like Chekhov’s gun is a sure sign of the disaster to come. There is always a poor suitor and an evil rival, usually a Duke or Baron. But no matter, everything else in the play is original and breathtaking.
Christian (played by Preston Taylor), a songwriter newly arrived from the States, hooks up with Toulouse, a crippled artist/playwright (Nick Rashad Burroughs), and Santiago (Danny Burgos), a fiery dancer, both of whom work at the financially-failing Moulin Rouge. They enlist Christian to help write the music for their next production and decide to get him an audience with the star of the show, Satine (Gabrielle McClinton), in the hopes of her performing some of his songs.
The current owner of the Moulin Rouge (Harold Zidler) has also set up a meeting between Satine and a rich Duke (Andrew Brewer), in the hopes that she can “charm” him out of enough money to save the business for the bohemian family of actors and dancers who depend on it. Satine mistakes Christian for the Duke and off they go.
Preston Taylor (Christian) and Gabrielle McClinton (Satine) are tireless and intense as they command the stage. Danny Burgos as Santiago is forceful as he dances, but also graceful. The ensemble is deeply talented and also ever-present on stage, as they combine and recombine into solos, duets, and trios that rock the theater.
The choreography by Sonya Tayeh is brilliant. It is the motor moving the plot and tying scenes together under a constant flow of the latest hits from the likes of Lady Gaga, Adele, the Talking Heads, Beyoncé, and Elton John. The dancers are muscular, lusty, and acrobatic as they step in and out of their songs.
Designed by Derek McClane, the sets are also stunning. Gray, black, and white backdrops convey a smoggy, soot-covered Paris, contrasting with the layered, vibrant, glowing interiors of the Moulin Rouge that draw you in. The lighting of the actors, designed by Justin Townshend, looks like the stage candle lighting from a Lautrec lithograph at times and then, in the next scene, blast from the floor, flashing and throbbing with the music. Combined with the masterful sets you are reminded of 1899 but taken to another place altogether. The costumes designed by Catherine Huber which are delicious, revealing, and add to the rich fabric of the show.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is at once a musical review, a wild ride, and a wonderful night’s entertainment.
Running Time: Two hours and 35 minutes with one 18-minute intermission.
“Moulin Rouge!” runs through December 17, 2023 at The Hippodrome Theater, 12 North Eutaw Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. For more information and to purchase tickets, please go online.