“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” Is a Glamorous and Glorious Pop Opera

Now playing at the Keller Auditorium, the theatrical version of Baz Luhrmann’s film is a much-needed January delight.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

The beginning of January is so depressing. Ice storms and power outages ruined Christmas. If a sunbeam breaks through the thick gray clouds, I run outside in a desperate attempt for a natural mood lift (don’t worry, I also have pharmaceuticals). But then! I saw an ad for the splashy pop opera Moulin Rouge! The Musical at Keller Auditorium. I grabbed two tickets for that evening’s show.

It was spendy, but I cannot think of a more effective treatment for the January doldrums than Moulin Rouge! The Musical.

Ecstatic can-can lines. Immersive, glamorous sets made to look like the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris. Phenomenal dancing, especially by the exquisite Libby Lloyd, who works her magic as Nini in black lace G-string lingerie. Don’t get to your seat late or you’ll miss some killer sword-swallowing just before the lights go down.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Based on the 2001 film Moulin Rouge! directed by Baz Luhrmann, the show premiered on Broadway in 2019 and won 10 Tony Awards, including Best Musical. On the National Tour, which runs in Portland through Jan. 15, Courtney Reed co-stars as the doomed cabaret performer Satine with Conor Ryan as her bohemian suitor Christian, a composer.

Reed’s standout performance is “Firework,” a powerful version that Katy Perry could only ever dream of replicating. Ryan especially shines in act two′s mashup of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” Not only does his rich vocal tone work in a variety of genres, but Ryan makes a convincing turn from naïve American to dangerous spurned lover.

But seriously, why choose? Every ensemble number slays, especially when everyone drinks absinthe and trips out to the tune of “Chandelier” by Sia. Satine emerges wearing a winged fairy costume that, to this viewer, called back to the teenage Claire Danes in Luhrmann’s iconic 1996 adaptation of Romeo + Juliet.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Matthew Murphy)

Like Satine, who is nearing the end of her good cabaret years, Moulin Rouge! The Musical! is starting to show her age. There are big set pieces built around Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance”—both bangers from the late aughts. It’s nothing that a few updates couldn’t solve, much like this stage iteration modernized the film. One welcome addition already: diverse body sizes, skin colors and gender identities in the cast.

My 11-year-old daughter did not seem too scandalized by the risqué costumes and sexual innuendo, but I did have to define “sex worker” and “tuberculosis” to her during intermission. I would agree with the producers’ suggestion that most attendees be 12 and up.

I woke up the next morning and there was a piece of silver tinsel on my pillow, leftover from the glitter drop at curtain call. Was it all a dream? I pulled back the curtains on another gray Portland day. If at all financially possible, prioritize getting to Moulin Rouge! The Musical this weekend. Mental health matters.

SEE IT: Moulin Rouge! The Musical plays at the Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay St., 503-248-4335, portland5.com/keller-auditorium. Runs through Jan. 15, tickets $30 and up.

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