Moulin Rouge on Broadway vs. The Real Thing in Paris

I was a huge fan of Moulin Rouge, the film, in high school. I had a friend in the theatre department who was absolutely obsessed with it so we watched it all the time. The film’s jukebox score was the first time I’d ever heard a lot of those famous songs. (What can I say, I was raised on show tunes and Spice Girls.) And Ewan McGregor? Swoon!

It’s safe to say that when I was given the opportunity to see a performance at the ACTUAL Moulin Rouge in Paris in 2008 that I was definitely going to take advantage. I think our tickets cost $50 (maybe $75?), but the tickets also came with a meal. I remember wishing to hear the songs I knew so well from the movie but the actual show is full of lesser-known music (or at least I didn’t know it, which isn’t saying much, I know). I remember the food being tasty and I marveled at the can-can dancers and topless burlesque dancers, the jugglers, and the singers. There were a lot of pasties as one would imagine.


It was a unique experience and one that I will never forget. A magnet from the gift shop hangs on my refrigerator and I also picked up one of the programs, too, since photos were strictly banned.

Fast forward about 10 years to summer 2018 and ART in Boston was mounting a new stage production of Moulin Rouge. This was long overdue if you ask me. Still: I was excited.

For some reason, Kristen and I didn’t think to see it while we were in Boston to see Jagged Little Pill, but we knew it’d come to Broadway. The stills of the set design were breathtaking. It was the set from The Great Comet of 1812, but glitzier and much, much redder. It was stunning.

Tickets had been impossible to buy when they transferred the production to Broadway so I was stunned when Nick surprised me on Christmas with tickets to a performance in late February to celebrate our one-year anniversary. I was SO excited. (And it was a good thing he went for before I traveled to Portugal because afterward, we wouldn’t have been able to go!)

Fast forward some more to the night of February 22nd. We grabbed Thai food on 9th Avenue and then we excited hurried over to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre.


The Al Hirschfeld Theatre actually felt like the perfect spot for this slightly more risque and unconventional show. The Moulin Rouge is quite close to the extremely seedy Montmartre District in Paris, so to have chosen a theatre for this production that’s west of 8th Avenue and literally next to a strip club feels insanely perfect.

As soon as you walk into the theatre you are transported into the Moulin Rouge that you know from the movie. Everything is draped in red velvet with red lights and everything is shimmering.

I was slightly disappointed to see that Karen Olivo, who plays Satine, was out that night, but I think my happiness from the knowledge that Danny Burstein and Aaron Tveit were on as Zidler and Christian, respectively, more than made up for it. We made our way to our seats in the mezzanine and then the lights went down.

The Show:

The Book: The plot is the same as the movie. There are minor changes in the second act, but the plot is the same: Satine falls in love with Christian who she believes in the Duke, and then she has to pretend she’s in love with the Duke, too, so they can get their show mounted. Easy enough, right?

The Music: Wow, wow, wow! There are all of the songs that you love from the movie in this score, but also there are snippets from probably 200 other popular songs scattered throughout. There’s a reason they don’t have a song list in the Playbill. They want the audience to be surprised and it’s for the benefit of both the audience and the creative team that we are surprised! If you want to ruin the surprise, you can check out the song list here (but I would advise against it).

The Set: As previously, the set would’ve been an easy and obvious pick for Best Set had the Tony Awards not been canceled this year. It is absolutely gorgeous. If you have an extra thousand dollars, you can even sit on stage (I’m assuming that’s the price they’re being resold for on Ticketmaster!) and really be part of the action. (Yes, please!) I can’t properly describe the set, so I’ll just show you a photo:


See? Gorgeous.

The Cast: In a time when productions are aiming to be as barebones as possible, this 30-person cast feeling HUGE. But it works. The stage has to look busy for the show to work because the stage is never bare and empty at the actual Moulin Rouge, or in the movie. Even the audience members in the mezzanine (hello!) feel like we’re all huddled together witnessing a rare event. It is a rare event because on Broadway every show is different. Hence the magic of theatre.

Ashley Loren was covering the role of Satine for Karen Olivio and she killed it! She sang the hell out of Katy Perry’s “Firework” and every other song she was given. She is literally in every seen in the show and she kept her energy high and her vocals on point throughout.

Aron Tveit was sensational at Christian. I’ve seen him in Next To Normal, Wicked, and Catch Me If You Can, all of which he was excellent in. However, as Christian, he was a sparkling diamond. His vocals were so vibrant and powerful that I wanted to scream for joy. I honestly didn’t know he could sing like that. My only criticism is that sometimes I didn’t believe that Christian and Satine were in love but I would probably blame that on him not having as much experience with Loren since she was an understudy. And I know what you’re thinking: How could that not ruin the show?! I don’t know. It just didn’t.

And last but certainly not least there was Danny Burstein as the MC of the Moulin Rouge, Harold Zidler. He had been out for a few weeks prior for medical reasons so I was elated when I found out that he’d be back just a few short weeks before we arrived to see the show. I have a long history with Mr. Burstein on Broadway. I’ve seen him in My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, The Snow Geese, Follies, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, South Pacific, and The Drowsy Chaperone. It is an understatement when I say that he is always spectacular in whatever show he is cast and his turn as Zidler in Moulin Rouge was no different. He never broke character while on stage or interacting with the audience, and his comedic timing and vocals were stellar. I. love. Danny. Burstein. You will, too.


Moulin Rouge is nearly three hours long but it never feels that way. It never drags and it’s pacing is damn near perfect. I am so, so grateful that I was able to see this gem of a show on Broadway before Broadway shut down for who knows how long.

Once Broadway is open again, I would encourage you to save some money and do that same. (Or you can enter the lottery here when they’ve re-opened.)

Is it like the real thing in Paris? I’d say it’s even better.

The Al Hirschfeld Theatre is a Broadway theatre located at 302 West 45th Street in midtown Manhattan.

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