Al Hirschfeld Theatre, New York City, (877) 250-2929
“This one’s for the hedonists,” said Ben Brantley in The New York Times. The spectacular new Broadway adaptation of Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie “has the febrile energy of the wilder parties of your youth,” and its brand of decadence might be preferable, because it produces no hangovers. Like Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, this production draws its energy from the inspired notion that the biggest pop songs about love and lust are the past half-century’s equivalent of opera arias, and so it crams 70 well-known hits into a two-hour-plus melodrama about an ailing Paris chanteuse and the naïf who loves her. Set in a lavish Belle Epoque nightclub full of men in top hats and women in corsets, it plays at selling sex when what it’s really selling is pure escapism. “You may not believe in it all by the next morning. But I swear you’ll feel nothing like regret.”
“Moulin Rouge is one of those shows that is not only critic-proof but maybe also story-proof,” said Alexis Soloski in TheGuardian.com. A gloss on La Traviata, it sets up a triangle in which the singer, Satine, agrees to be the kept woman of the unsavory Duke of Monroth but then falls in love with a purehearted, penniless songwriter just before she dies of consumption. The characters are thin and the love triangle lopsided, “but the genius of the movie was not its narrative; it was its lavish design, its out-and-proud ahistoricism, its deep knowledge that popular music unpacks our hearts.” When Karen Olivo’s Satine and Aaron Tveit’s Christian proclaim their love for each other in snippets of familiar song, “the effect is Shazam for the soul.” It somehow doesn’t matter that Tveit has zero sexual charisma when Olivo is belting out big numbers that blend major hits by Lady Gaga and Britney Spears or by Madonna, Carol Channing, and Beyoncé.
Olivo is “underused vocally, especially in Act 2,” said Chris Jones in the New York Daily News. But she’s the only performer who conveys any real feeling, “doing her considerable best to humanize not so much a character as a piece of iconography.” The audience doesn’t really want emotional depth anyway. What we apparently crave is “relief from our growing terror of physical intimacy” in the form of an eye-popping musical that explodes with familiar songs for more than two hours. This isn’t a musical in the traditional sense. “This is grand date-night pastiche, a unifying communal playlist, an omnisexual dip into a sensual ocean with a few hundred fellow travelers, no worries, being happy, selling tickets.” ■