‘Moulin Rouge!’: Translate From Screen To Stage

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Moulin Rouge! is a musical based on the 2001 film directed by Baz Luhrmann. The musical originally opened in July of 2018 at the Emerson Colonial Theatre in Boston and then moved to Broadway in July of 2019. It received fourteen nominations and won ten of those at the Tony Awards in 2021. This included Best Musical.  

In celebration of its success, we take a look at how the Moulin Rouge on Broadway translates from stage to screen.

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What is Moulin Rouge on Broadway about? 

Moulin Rouge! is a jukebox musical that weaves together original songs with popular music. It takes place at the turn of the 20th century in France. The story follows Christian, a young composer, who falls in love with the cabaret star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine. The Moulin Rouge and going under, and, the owner, desperate to save it, promises Satine to a wealthy man, The Duke. The hope is that through this relationship, The Duke will put up the money to save the failing business. Meanwhile, Satine and Christian fall in love and begin an affair.

Pictured (l-r): Standing– Ashley Loren as Satine, Derek Klena as Christian, Eric Anderson as Harold Zidler; Seated– Sahr Ngaujah as Toulouse-Lautrec, Declan Bennett as The Duke of Monroth, Caleb Marshall Villarreal as Santiago/ CREDIT: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMadE

Moulin Rouge former Broadway cast

There has always been a wonderful cast. Some highlights include:

Aaron Tveit originated the role of Christian. You would recognize him as Gabe in Next to Normal, Fiyero in Wicked, and Link Larkin in Hairspray. He’s been in a variety of movies and television shows as well including Grease: Live! (Danny Zuko), Les Miserables 2013 (Enjolras), Gossip Girl! (Tripp van der Bilt), Graceland (Mike Warren), and Schmigadoon! (Danny Bailey).

Karen Olivo originated the role of Satine. She is also known for her performances in West Side Story (Anita), In the Heights (originated the role of Vanessa), and Hamilton Chicago (Angelica).

Danny Burstein played Harold Zidler. He’s been in a variety of musicals and plays including, but not limited to, The Seagull, Company, A Class Act, The Drowsy Chaperone, South Pacific, Follies, Cabaret, Fiddler on the Roof, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and My Fair Lady. He’s was also recently in Tick, Tick… Boom!

Natalie Mendoza played Satine. She’s also been in Miss Saigon and Spiderman: Turn off the Dark. Interestingly enough, she also played China Doll in the Moulin Rouge! movie.

Current Broadway Cast

Derek Klena currently plays Christian. He is known for Broadway roles including Nick Healy in Jagged Little Pill and Dmitry in Anastasia. He was also in the off Broadway production of Dogfight and he played Fiyero in Wicked for the 10th anniversary. Television shows he’s been in include Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Code, and Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.

Eric Anderson currently plays Harold Zidler. He has originated roles in musicals including Waitress, Kinky Boots, The Last Ship, Rocky, and Soul Doctor. He was also in the movie The Greatest Showman

Jessica Lee Goldyn currently plays Nini. She also was in Peter Pan, Chicago, Finding Neverland, Tuck Everlasting, and Hello, Dolly!

Ashley Loren is currently Satine. She’s also been in Jekyll & Hyde, American Idiot, and Bye, Bye Birdie.

moulin rouge- ashley loren
Ashley Loren as Santine/ CREDIT: Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade

How does the stage musical differ from the film?

There are some key differences between the musical and the movie. Not all of the songs from the movie made it to the stage production. More familiar and popular music was added to the musical. Songs that were removed include “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Like A Virgin,” and “The Show Must Go On.”

The medium is obviously different. With a movie, there is the opportunity for editing and different filters. It has the chance to use shots to convey certain meaning. Director Baz Luhrmann has a notable style that makes the movie memorable and iconic. With a stage performance, the blocking conveys meaning, but it’s different that having the ability to work with blocking, shots, and edits.

Additionally, Satine has more freedom and sex work is less shamed in the musical. She is happy at the nightclub. She doesn’t have dreams to escape it because it’s a choice that she’s made. Instead of trying to avoid sleeping with The Duke, she does it by her own choice. She doesn’t do it enthusiastically, but, instead, to save the Moulin Rouge. By putting these choices in her hands, it has a more modern that shames sex workers far less.

Moulin Rouge Broadway critic reviews

Critics had opposing opinions.

In Datebooks review of the film, writer Lily Janiak writes: 

It’s pure melodrama in all its manipulative, heartstrings-tugging, alarmingly effective glory. The show, directed by Alex Timbers, inspired by the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film, attains a magical balance of wallowing unapologetically in its overwrought emotion while also knowing itself exactly for what it is and not taking itself too seriously.

Talia Sajor of Daily Bruin writes:

“While the production value appears to be the clear focus of the creatives, both the writing and song choices, on the other hand, are left in the dust. The cast – namely Reed and Cahill-Lemme – make do with the material given, as evidenced by their beautifully harmonized vocals, but they lack the romantic chemistry and development needed to effectively pull off the love story with wordy and unnatural dialogue.”

Fans share their enthusiastic opinions

Musical theatre fans also have a lot to say!

Jess only had wonderful things to say.

Brooke talked about dreams to see Lady Gaga as Satine.

Ainsley expressed distaste for some of the musical changes.

Victoria shared photos from the show.

Have you seen the musical? How do you think it stacks up?

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moulin rouge- title photo