Review: 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' is dazzling spectacle with absurd, campy plot

Christian Douglas and Gabrielle McClinton perform as Christian and Satine in the North American tour of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" playing at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center now through June 23.
Christian Douglas and Gabrielle McClinton perform as Christian and Satine in the North American tour of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" playing at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center now through June 23.

APPLETON – It's an absurd concept for a musical.

In a seemingly unidentifiable time in Paris — although the movie version states the year as 1899 — the Moulin Rouge cabaret is on the brink of financial ruin. In an effort to save the theater and the tight-knit group of performers who make their livings there, the owner of the Moulin Rouge introduces a wealthy duke to the star performer, Satine, in hopes that their union will convince the duke to provide funding to the dying theater.

On the night Satine meets the duke, she also meets Christian, a young composer looking to get his music performed at the Moulin Rouge. The pair quickly become smitten with each other, and Satine finds herself caught between financial security and opulence with the Duke, or true love and freedom with Christian.

But there's a twist; the show is set to pop songs from the last few decades. And the result feels a bit like a fever dream.

"Moulin Rouge! The Musical" is playing at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center now through June 23. It's a dazzling spectacle with captivating choreography and some outstanding vocal performances. While the musical's plot falls short of delivering the emotional depth it seems to be seeking, the medleys of well-known music — ranging from Lady Gaga to Beyoncé to Elton John to Britney Spears — provide a whimsical, campy tone that nonetheless make it an enjoyable experience.

The North American tour of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" plays at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center now through June 23.
The North American tour of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" plays at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center now through June 23.

The musical is based on Baz Luhrmann's 2001 movie musical "Moulin Rouge!" starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. The list of songs have been updated to include music that came out in the last 23 years, while still keeping some of the film's iconic tunes like Elton John's "Your Song," LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade," and the musical's original song "Come What May."

For theatergoers unfamiliar with the film, the musical's outrageousness may come as a surprise. But the stage version does an apt job of capturing some of the movie's wacky and over-the-top energy.

Christian, played by Christian Douglas, was the standout performer of Wednesday night's show. Douglas effortlessly carried his voice through different musical styles, from powerful, show-stopping belt to sweet falsetto to desperate growl. His stage presence was evocative of a charming, wide-eyed Disney prince — until the second act, when lovesickness and absinthe sends Christian into a spiral. Douglas' solo performance of "El Tango de Roxanne" was show-stopping, punctuated by jaw-dropping lighting design.

Gabrielle McClinton's Satine sang with a rich alto tone that fit her role as a mature and slightly jaded cabaret performer who carries a heavy responsibility on her shoulders. McClinton was a powerful actress with an impressive belt. However, some of her vocal moments fell a bit short, particularly in songs with higher notes.

The Duke of Monroth, played by understudy Luke Monday, had the energy of a cocky British rockstar, with a wealthy, dangerous look. His vocals matched, as Monday exhibited an impressive rock tone in songs like the Rolling Stones medley "Sympathy for the Duke."

Monday also had the most consistent accent in Wednesday's show, as most other performers — aside from Christian, who is visiting Paris from his hometown of Lima, Ohio — drifted in and out of vaguely European-sounding accents.

The other leads were very entertaining. Cabaret owner Harold Zidler (Robert Petkoff) brought comedic relief as the high-energy emcee of the Moulin Rouge and friend to Satine. Christian's two "bohemian" artist friends Toulous-Latrec (Amar Atkins) and Santiago (Danny Burgos) each provided additional laughs and fodder for the show's theme of the importance of ideals like love, freedom and art. Atkins delivered a beautifully haunting rendition of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy," while Burgos' moment to shine came in the Act II opening number "Backstage Romance" which combined a variety of songs including Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Britney Spears' "Toxic."

The set and costumes are bright and colorful, and dazzling lighting and special effects amplified the onstage talent into an intense spectacle. The large ensemble dance numbers were extremely fun to watch, and it was clear from the emphatic cheers and applause at Wednesday night's show that the rest of the audience felt the same.

RELATED: 'Moulin Rouge!' musical coming to Fox Cities PAC, using popular songs to tell love story

Part of the intrigue of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" is the way the show incorporates popular songs about love and heartbreak in unique ways. Satine's vocal part in a medley of songs including "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," Madonna's "Material Girl" and Rihanna's "Only Girl in the World" resembles a stoic death march, while a chilling rendition of Sia's "Chandelier" is sung by Christian, Zidler, Toulous-Latrec, Santiago and others while in an absinthe-induced stupor.

With prominent themes of sex and some violence, "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" is probably not the best choice for younger audiences. But for theatergoers seeking a wild, larger-than-life story filled with passion, drama and a touch of insanity, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is the place to be, now through July 23.

It's certainly a theater experience audiences are not likely to forget.

Tickets for "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" can be purchased online through Ticketmaster, or by phone at 800-982-2787, or through the PAC ticket office in-person or by phone at 920-730-3760. The PAC ticket office is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Contact Kelli Arseneau at 920-213-3721 or karseneau@gannett.com. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, at @ArseneauKelli.

This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Review: 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' is dazzling spectacle with absurd, campy plot

Advertisement