We’ll always have Paris – a review of “Moulin Rouge! The Musical”

Mike Buzzelli

by Michael Buzzelli

Christian (Christian Douglas) arrives in Paris and develops a fast friendship with Santiago (Danny Burgos) and the painter Toulouse-Lautrec (Nick Rashad Burroughs). The duo convinces him to write a musical and present it to the Moulin Rouge’s star performer, Satine (Gabrielle McClinton) in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”

Meanwhile, the owner of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler (Robert Petkoff) is up to his eyeballs in debt. He promises the Duke of Monroth (Andrew Brewer) a chance to be in Satine’s company (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Zidler plans to use the duke’s attraction to Satine to stave off his debt collectors.

Christian sneaks off to Satine’s dressing room, but she mistakes him for the duke and the songwriter and the star pitch woo (speaking in lines from pop songs as if they were Shakespearean sonnets).

When Zidler and the duke find Christian in Satine’s dressing room with Santiago and Lautrec, they convince the duke that they were rehearsing a play.  Shenanigans ensue until things turn deadly serious toward the end.

Spoiler alert: When someone coughs in the first act of a play, they are usually dead by the third act. It’s almost a Chekhovian rule.

All the while, everyone is speaking and signing in contemporary love songs as if it was its own language.

Harold Zidler (Robert Petkoff) introduces the Cancan Girls in “Moulin Rouge.”

The plot, if it sounds familiar, is lifted from “La Boheme,” “Rent,” and the film version of “Moulin Rouge,” all of which were based on Henri’s Murger’s 1851 novel, “Scènes de la vie de bohème.” This version strays the furthest from the other renditions, but the basic plot is unchanged.

P.S. That’s your spoiler warning. Does a work of art based on a novel from 1851 really need a spoiler?!?

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is the jukiest of jukebox musicals. Every time the beat drops, another Easter egg is uncovered. The show feels like an iPod set on Shuffle. Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. That said, some real pop favorites pop up and they are delightfully rendered.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is both spectacular and silly. The show is filled with pomp and circumstance and the opening number elicits pure joy. Unfortunately, the show takes a slight downturn. The humor is set not to stun but to kill. At times, the show is too jokey, especially considering the darker subject matter.  There’s an issue with tone. The big dramatic death near the end of the play doesn’t carry the weight it should and that’s a shame. Satine deserves a tearful goodbye.

But there is a lot of sheer joy here. The cast is amazing.  Before meeting Satine, the duke threatens Zidler saying, “She better live up to your hyperbole.” McClinton does. She’s a lovely lead. But the entire ensemble shines. They are all diamonds.

Brewer’s Christian is, literally and figuratively, born for the role (his first name aptly matching the name of his character).

Petkoff shines as the lascivious bar owner. Most, if not all, of his jokes land strictly because of his deft delivery.

Rashad Burroughs has a great voice. While he doesn’t physically resemble Toulouse-Lautrec in any way, he’s perfect for the role. He portrays an almost exquisite pain on his face when he reveals his unrequited love for Satine. It’s probably the most tragic moment in the story.

Burgos and the ensemble do a rousing edition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” It’s another jewel in a gleaming crown of musical numbers.

This show would not have worked without Catherine Zuber’s magnificent costumes. The bright colors and bold patterns are a wonder to behold. Equally matched by Derek McLane’s masterful set design.

P.S. This show must be a bitch to tour with hundreds of set pieces and a plethora of props. The unsung heroes of this production are the many members of the crew who are building up and breaking down those glorious sets.

Update: According to Marcy Metelsky (‘Burgh Vivant Board Member and all around bon vivant); The tour travels in 11 tractor-trailers, with one advance trailer. The set load-in takes 3 days; the breakdown takes 8 hours.

The show closes with a final spectacular number that washes away the tragedy and brings an effervescent elation back to the stage. This audience member danced his way out the door.


“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” runs through Wednesday, September 27 until Sunday, October 8 at the Benedum Center, 7th Street and Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15222. For more information, click here

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