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The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

The Kennedy Center’s Moulin Rouge is a Maximalist’s Wet Dream

Moulin Rouge
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Jordan Wright
August 6, 2023
Special to The Zebra

The cast of the North American Tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Moulin Rouge! – The Musical! is a maximalist’s wet dream. Glitz and glamour exude from all pores in this celebration of Paris’s bohemian underworld. The best way to enjoy this glorious extravaganza is to surrender to its magnificent excess, of which there is plenty. Directed by Alex Timbers with lavish costumes by Catherine Zuber and eye-popping sets by Derek McLane this explosive production stuns even the jaded eye. A massive blue elephant and the famous Moulin Rouge windmill frame the stage while the Eiffel Tower and Paris’s glittering night sky form the evocative backdrop.

Apart from the Champs Elysees boulevardiers whose lives entangle with Montmartre gigolos and prostitutes, the production’s glitz comes in the form of megawatt circus-atmosphere lighting design by Justin Townsend, flouncy petticoats and sexy dancewear set to vivid choreography by Sonya Tayeh. Add an erotic, jaw-dropping tango and the iconic cancan and you have a grand theatrical fantasy.

1047 – Gabe MartÍnez as Santiago and Libby Lloyd as Nini (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Leading lady Satine’s (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) illicit lover Christian (John Cardoza) writes a rock opera to woo her and it’s the start of their amour as well as the musical pop rock snippets that weave in and out of the dialogue. It’s a spectacular tribute to lyricists everywhere. The playbill lists none of the musical numbers of which there are over a dozen mostly in snippets. Their rhythms and arrangements are re-imagined and delivered to the recipients as dialogue, but I recognized most of them and you will too. The audience reveled in the songs that backgrounded their own love stories hearing songs like “Burning Down the House”, “Let’s Dance”, “Lady Marmalade”, “Royals”, “Diamonds Are Forever”, “Rolling in the Deep”, “Material Girl”, “Firework”, “Bad Romance”, “Chandelier”, “Your Song”, “Sympathy for the Devil” (of which we had not one drop – sung for the cruel Duke of Monroth (Andrew Brewer) whose aim is to control Satine and keep her as his lover.

Themes of La Boheme and Cabaret weave in and out of this glamourous den of iniquity. Think Satine as Mimi, but based on famed French cancan dancer, Jane Avril, and celebrated in Toulouse-Lautrec’s famous posters promoting the venue and its star performers

The North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Harold Zidler (Austin Durant) as the ringmaster of this circus of chanteuses and chanteurs. Zidler touts the ambiance as a place where dreams come true and carnal desires are realized. Drawn from Baz Luhrmann’s and Craig Pearce’s eponymous motion picture, it tells the love story of Satine, the nightclub’s leading lady and Christian, a poor (yet extremely handsome!) budding American songwriter who comes to Paris to cavort among the revolutionaries. It is where he falls in league with Toulouse (Nick Rashad Burroughs on the night I saw it played beautifully by Denzel Tsopnang) and Santiago (Gabe Martinez) who are struggling to write a musical. They join forces and soon the trio pitches Christian’s musical to Satine at the Moulin Rouge where love blooms.

I would like to personally thank both John Cardoza and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer for their magnificent voices. And they should personally thank me for not running up to the stage at curtain to hug them both.

Book by John Logan, with Nicci Claspell as Arabia; Kamal Lado as Pierre; Gabe Martinez as Nini; Harper Miles as La Chocolat; Andrés Quintero as Baby Doll and a bevy of extraordinary dancers!

Highly recommended. C’est fantastique!

Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and the North American Touring Company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo/Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade)

Through September 24th at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F Street NW, Washington, DC 20566. For tickets and information visit or call the box office at 202 467-4600.

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