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For Its 20th Anniversary I Watched ‘Moulin Rouge!’ for the First Time

September 7, 2021 by Abby Bien
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The rumors are true: I am 26 years old, my only personality trait is being a theatre nerd, and this weekend I watched the movie Moulin Rouge! for the first time. The other rumor is also true: while I saw the movie for the first time a mere 24 hours ago, I ran to the Broadway show basically the moment it opened in 2019. Why, you may ask, would I see a musical adaptation of a movie when I’ve never seen the movie? Well dear reader, the answer is simple: I am a theatre nerd who grew up with YouTube and Aaron Tveit exists.

In all seriousness (as this is a serious piece of journalism) I’ve had Moulin Rouge! on my to-watch list for years, and the show’s return to the stage — plus the movie’s 20th release anniversary in the UK — was a great excuse to finally press “play.”

My official review is “Moulin Rouge! is wacky.” That’s some of the highest praise I can give a movie-musical (hello Brandy Cinderella and Grease and Burlesque and High School Musical) so I’m glad to report that Christian and Satine have joined the ranks of Troy and Gabriella.

As I watched Moulin Rouge! for the first time, I couldn’t help but compare it to the stage adaptation. In a really wonderful and immersive way — as only live theatre can be — the musical feels like a heightened version of the movie. It’s like the movie got turned up a few notches and also Katy Perry got added to the cast. All good things, in my eyes! Take a look below to see how the magic of the movie translates to the stage.

Don’t worry, there’s a “Lady Marmalade” moment

The songs from Moulin Rouge! have been etched into our culture’s brain, whether you’ve seen the movie or not. Luckily for every single person on this planet, “Lady Marmalade” transfers beautifully from the screen to the stage.

The cool thing about the musical adaptation of Moulin Rouge! is that it features both songs from the movie and songs that have become modern-day faves since the film’s release 20 years ago. That means we get a “Lady Marmalade” moment and an epic “Elephant Love Medley,” and it also means we get Satine singing “Firework” by Katy Perry and Christian making you cry to Adele.

The dance moves will make you sweat

When you watch Moulin Rouge! at home, the both literal and figurative hotness that exudes from those dance scenes feels like a slight sweat your AC can get rid of in no time. But when you’re in the theatre watching these dance scenes? Can someone bring a glass of water to my chair ASAP, please and thank you.

There’s really nothing like seeing those dance moves come to life on a theatre stage. Thanks to the coolest choreographer ever Sonya Tayeh, the musical’s choreography feels like a celebration of dance’s ability to cross time periods, countries, and genres. And don’t even get me started on the Act Two opening number.

The whole gang’s here!

If you may recall, my official review of the movie was “Moulin Rouge! is wacky.” That conclusion is thanks in large part to the cast of characters that surround Christian and Satine’s love story. The people in the show are weird! And silly! And dramatic! And strange!

The side storylines and shenanigans that come from the ensemble are some of my favorite parts of Moulin Rouge!, both on stage and screen. They ground the fantastical in a chaotic reality and it’s so much dang fun to watch.

Did someone turn off the AC?

Have I mentioned Moulin Rouge! is as hot as it is weird? The secrecy and dramatic irony (thanks to my middle school English teacher for that term) that surrounds their story keeps you on your toes, and has you rooting for them to their final and (spoiler alert) tragic end.

Obviously Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor are two of the hottest people to ever exist. And while Kidman and McGregor are decidedly not onstage in both New York and London at the moment, their stage counterparts for the musical do not disappoint. Promise. So much of this story is carried by the lead’s chemistry and fight to be together, and the actors onstage deliver just that.

Is this Paris or a fever dream?

There’s a difference between walking into the Moulin Rouge of your television screen and the one that takes place in an actual theatre. I have never felt more transported to the setting of a show than I have when I walked into Moulin Rouge! and sat in my seat. The set is a character in and of itself; it moves with the story, surprises you when you least expect it, and is as campy as it is classy.

If you like to watch Moulin Rouge! for the weird and wonderful and fantastical world it creates on the screen, you’ve got to take a seat in the audience.

Spoiler alert: Broadway actors know how to sing

We love you Nicole and Ewan but there’s nothing like a Broadway (or West End!) voice. The singing in the movie is plenty great and fine, but hearing “Lady Marmalade” in a theatre is otherworldly. Take a trip to the Moulin Rouge to hear it for yourself and get tickets now in London and New York.