The effect is intoxicating, hitting you the moment you set foot into the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. New York City? Evaporated. It’s Paris 1899, and it’s your new reality. Here Baroque cherubs and a massive elephant stand watch as an iconic windmill casts a hypnotic spell. Exquisite performers with sinuous bodies beckon, welcoming you to their realm of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Love—the unforgettable world of Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
Photos by Matthew Murphy.
Once the show begins, you meet young American writer Christian, played by actor Casey Cott, best known as Kevin Keller on the CW series Riverdale. Tantalized by the bohemian grandeur of the Moulin Rouge—“Part nightclub, part dance hall, part theatre, part dreamscape”—Christian falls desperately in love with the courtesan and star of the nightclub, Satine (played by Courtney Reed).
“The role is basic: a young man trying to find a place in the world, without feeling obligated to get caught up in material things…and he falls in love with someone incredible,” says Cott. “And he realizes that all you need at the end of the day is the love of someone special and good friends. If you have that, you will be fulfilled.”
Christian’s friends, incidentally, are the artist Henri Toulouse Lautrec and Santiago, the greatest tango dancer in Paris, played by André Ward and Gabe Martínez respectively. Together they make up a fearless and funny trio—obstacles (like poverty) be damned!
Cott, who joined the production in early August after a whirlwind month of rehearsals, says that while he had plenty of support during this period, once the clock ticked down, something insane happens: “You suddenly get chucked in like a shot out of a cannon. But if you trust the people you’re working with, it all falls into place.”
Still, coming into Moulin Rouge! The Musical means tackling one of Broadway’s most exciting and challenging scores. “Like all theatre nerds, I was familiar with the music, having listened to the soundtrack with the original cast, so of course I couldn’t wait to tackle Christian’s songs,” says Cott, who began acting in high school and went on to study theatre at Carnegie Mellon University. “In my last semester, I booked Riverdale and they gave me time off to shoot it,” he recounts. “The day before I graduated it was picked up.”
And although working on the series kept him off the stage for a while, Riverdale occasionally included a musical episode, smoothing the transition to Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
Technically a jukebox musical, the majority of the show’s numbers are medleys derived from a mashup of genres and generations. Pop anthems, musical theatre, opera...Offenbach to Lady Gaga. Off-the-chart pacing and the physical stamina required—especially when piggybacked onto Sonya Tayeh’s super-stoked choreograph—is staggering. FYI: the killer ensemble nails every rapid-fire kick, slide, and change-over to mind-blowing perfection.
The storyline for Moulin Rouge! The Musical, while centering on Christian’s and Satine’s love affair, is complicated by the club’s desperate need for a cash infusion. Christian and his friends believe the musical they’ve been writing (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) will save the day, while host/impresario Harold Zidler has another solution in mind: the Duke of Monroth (a poster boy for lascivious greed, above), who promises to back Zidler in exchange for Satine.
A swirl of plot twists, including mistaken identity, clandestine meetings, and character revelations—along with a delicious number of anachronistic Easter eggs—enhance the experience for both theatregoers and performers. “Getting to do this show eight times a week is both thrilling and humbling,” says Cott, who has extended his run through February 4th. “But that’s what makes it so exciting for me as an actor—that and the fact that every performance is totally different.”
While audiences might not always be aware of the creative nuts and bolts inherent to the actor’s process, they do notice Cott and Reed’s extraordinary onstage chemistry.
“Courtney is a dream actress to work with, she’s so giving and experienced,” he says. “For a rookie like me to have a partner that’s always there for me, that’s something I’ll never, ever forget.”
Nor will he forget their transcendent “Elephant Love Medley” at the end of Act I. “It’s such a mountain to climb, it covers tons of songs, but it’s one of my favorite moments in the show.”
With only a handful of performance weeks ahead, Cott admits he’s savoring every minute he spends onstage and with the company. “I love how alive the theatre is every night…and the people…how they come from everywhere, Italy, Brazil, Mexico…they love the show and spectacle, and the songs…everyone loves the songs!”
DID YOU KNOW…
- Baz Luhrmann’s groundbreaking film MOULIN ROUGE! made its debut at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. It won Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) at the Golden Globes, was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture, and won two.
- On July 25th, 2019 the stage version adapted on the film opened at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre, with an expanded score of new songs and musical mashups. It featured a book by Tony winner John Logan (based on the screenplay by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce) and direction by Tony nominee Alex Timbers.
- [Notably, on October 6th, 2019, The Moulin Rouge in Paris that inspired both the film and the stage production, celebrated its 130th anniversary.]
- At the 2021 Tony Awards, Moulin Rouge! The Musical picked up 10 Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, and Best Choreography.
- The show’s songbook spans 160 years of popular music.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is playing at Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 52nd St. For reservations and show info call 212-239-6200, or visit moulinrougemusical.com.