“Moulin Rouge” hokey melodrama with old songs to choke a juke box

By Lucy Komisar

It certainly was red, all over, except perhaps for the life-size naturally gray elephant on a riser to the right.

Jacqueline B. Arnold as La Chocolat, Robyn Hurder as Nini, Holly James as Arabia and Jeigh Madjus as Baby Doll, photo Matthew Murphy.

Red must mean demimonde. The women are in bustiers and mostly bare bottoms. It‘s garish Montmartre. Or, forget Paris, it‘s old Las Vegas.

The men of course are in top hats and tails. In the age of Epstein, is that still really okay? Moneyed men and sexually available women. Nobody uncomfortable about the objectification of women?

Of course, you can say it‘s how it was. Reminds me of that 1970 pseudo-documentary “Sexual Freedom in Denmark,” or like putting serious fiction in Playboy so men could say they were not the grungy types who went to booths with peepholes.

Danny Burstein as Harold Zidler, photo Matthew Murphy.

The audience was of the sort who “ooooed” when they saw a fake sword swallower.

So, we have Harold Zidler (Danny Burstein) an MC/ owner of this down and dirty cabaret who needs money to keep it open. Burstein is fine, very believable, like a show barker.

And the lead/female star Satine (Karen Olivo) who can sing, but has a forgettable personality.

Then the rich Duke of Monroth (Tam Mutu) who is not to be trusted. Mutu has presence, might be an interesting guy.

The company, photo Matthew Murphy.

And the na¯ve young American composer, Christian (Aaron Tveit), who seems really stupid and has so little presence you think the boards will swallow him up.

Fill it out with the poor proletarian dancers who arrive on stage to shake various parts of their scantily clad bodies. The choreography by Sonya Tayeh has lots of jumping and kicking. “Can Can,” you know.

Karen Olivo as Satine and Tam Mutu as the Duke of Monroth, photo Matthew Murphy.

To show that this entertainment can go one better than the usual juke box musicals, this has so many songs running into each other that somebody must have run out of nickels. From pop to screechy disco. (The music credits take 3 ½ small type columns in the program.) There is no credit for any original music and lyrics.

But the problem is the script. So Zidler gets money from the Duke to keep the place open. In return, Satine is to sleep with him. We learn (copying Edith Piaf and her famous “Milord,” which of course was played) that she was put on the street at 13. Which is supposed to mean she is used to this. At times I wished heartily that Piaff were there.

This story gives hokey unoriginal melodrama a bad name. I thought, is this supposed to be satire? No, that might have had subtlety or cleverness.

Karen Olivo as Satine and Aaron Tveit as Christian in front of a lit moon and amour, photo Matthew Murphy.

Of course, the dumb American falls in love with Satine, and it seems requited. Although she has a yen for the money, too, and sneaks around to keep assignations with the Duke.

The pi¨ce de résistance (forgive the spoiler, and I‘m skipping over a lot) is when Satine gets consumption. Now Satine trades Piaff walking the streets for Mimi dying of TB, which was required to make this the most derivative copycat play you can imagine. The only thing missing was a final descent of the glittery chandeliers.

Moulin Rouge: the Musical.” Book by John Logan, based on the 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce; directed by Alex Timbers; choreographed by Sonya Tayeh. Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street, New York City. 877-250-2929. Opened July 25, 2019. Running time 2:35. 8/10/19. Also on NY Theatre Wire.

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