Back in April, my friend Stephanie emailed me with multiple exclamation points, sharing the news that "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" was coming to Boston in the summer. She had read the Deadline article announcing the all star cast and forwarded it on to me, asking if I would be her date. Of course I said, "yes!"
The show is at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, which had been closed for three years for renovations. The Boston Globe published details of the transformation, ". . . crews have spent more than 37,000 man-hours repairing murals, re-creating plaster molds, retouching gold leaf, lofting a new marquee, and installing some 42,000 square feet of carpet — a bespoke weave of patterns from around the time the Colonial opened in 1900." When we arrived, we were eager to see what all the fuss was about.
I must admit, the refreshed theater is beautiful. It feels truly grand and like a place meant for special occasions. The gold leaf on the ceiling in the lobby is particularly stunning.
Our tickets were scanned, the usher handed us programs and we made our way down the stairs to our seats. As the set came into view, we both gasped. It was breathtaking.
The bold red paired with glittering gold accents, ornate chandeliers and twinkling lights was so dreamy and romantic. I turned to Stephanie and said, "If this is all we see, I'm good." I was in complete awe.
As the clock ticked towards curtain call, actors began to appear on the side balconies. They were dancing, smoking and staring longingly at the audience. They were definitely setting the mood.
While the cast was slowly emerging, an usher walked to the front of our section and declared, "At this point, there is no more photography! Please, put your phones away."
The musical is based on Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film. The script is written by Tony Award winner John Logan, with choreography by Sonya Tayeh. I felt in love with Sonya's work when she was a recurring choreographer on "So You Think You Can Dance." She opened my eyes to the power and emotion of contemporary dance, and is the reason I downloaded so many (so many!!) songs to my iTunes. I have entire mix CDs of just tracks I discovered through Sonya's routines. I was praying we would see her at theater, but no such luck.
The show opens with "Lady Marmalade," a song that instantly makes you want to sing along and dance. From there, it transitions to "Can Can Can," with enormous ruffle dresses and high kicks that could rival The Rockettes.
What was so cool about this production is that it mixed in current pop songs with the songs you know and love from the movie. Each time they would weave in another present day hit, I would find myself wondering, "Which gem are they going to sample next?"
Aaron Tveit plays lovestruck composer Christian. First things first, Tveit has gorgeous hair. It's impossible not to want to run your fingers through it. He wins over the audience the first moment he sings, doing a few bars from "The Sound of Music." The audience becomes more enamored as he sings Lorde's "Royals" with Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago.
Satine, the object of Christian's affection, is played by Karen Olivo. She won a Tony Award in 2009 for her role as Anita in the revival of "West Side Story." It takes a while for Satine to make her entrance, but when she does, it's from a diamond encrusted swing that descends from the ceiling. She arrives, seductively singing Rihanna's "Diamonds." It was perfect (slash, can that be how I enter rooms?).
A few scenes later, Satine belts out an emotional rendition of Katy Perry's "Firework" that had me welling with tears. I don't think of that song as sad, in fact quite the contrary, but when you slow it down and really listen to the lyrics, it's actually very raw.
Right before the intermission, Christian and Satine duet with the most spectacular mash up of love songs including everything from Whitney Houston to Tina Turner to David Bowie to Elton John.
When the lights went down, signaling intermission, we turned to each other and gushed. We couldn't get over how much we loved the sets, the costumes and all the surprise pop songs. We also admitted how much we'd both been crying.
After a quick trip the ladies room, we were back in our seats and giddy for more. The second act opens with an incredible rendition of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." This is the monster-like movement we're used to seeing from Sonya Tayeh.
As happens with love stories, the tension took over for most of the second half. Christian sang a very passionate version of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" (which is one of my favorite break up songs - it feels so damn good to sing it) and Satine and her stage family sang a rendition of Florence and the Machine's "Shake it Out" that gave me goosebumps.
True confession: I was absolutely destroyed by the last love scene between Christian and Satine. I was crying, my lip was quivering, my chest felt tight . . . it was not a good look. All around us we could hear people sniffling and wiping their tears. At least it wasn't just us!
I also got very emotional when Christian, Toulouse-Lautrec, Santiago and Zidler remind the audience what they're fighting for. There is a single spotlight on each of them and one by one they clearly and confidently each say one word, "Truth. Beauty. Freedom. Love." During this painful time in our country, this hit very close to home. Cue the waterworks again!
I was so grateful the grand finale was high energy because otherwise I have no idea how I would have recovered from all that ugly crying! Even as the final number began and the audience rose to their feet, I was still a blubbering mess. Eventually, I was distracted by the dancing and everyone clapping along to the beat, but then when the actors came out to take their bows, I started crying again. I was a disaster!
When the lights came up and it was time to leave, we popped into the ladies room one final time. In line behind us were two friends, online from their smartphones trying to buy tickets to another performance later in the week. I couldn't blame them! We were all on a high from what we had just seen.
I went into this show not really knowing what to expect. As soon as I saw the set, I knew we were in for a treat. The dancing was fantastic (true to Sonya form), the singing was masterful and the infusion of all those catchy pop songs made it feel like you were at karaoke with hundreds of your closest friends.
I felt the full range of emotions throughout the show. During certain parts I was smiling so wide I thought my face was going to break. Other moments had me laughing out loud and several songs had me in tears.
I feel so lucky to have had this experience and seen this production before it's big Broadway debut. We are part of a very small, very fortunate group of people who got to see this show before it becomes the next huge sensation. I hope at this time next year we are watching the Tony Awards and seeing "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" taking home an armful of trophies.
There is still time for you to see the show before it leaves Beantown. The final date is August 19. If you are on the fence about going because of the ticket cost, I assure you, it's worth the splurge.