Adapting a popular jukebox musical from the screen to the Broadway stage is no easy feat. It takes effort, ingenious thought, and some changes to get something so sprawling and so epic confined to a single-stage full of sets and a large cast of people. Despite the daunting challenge, Alex Timbers, director of Moulin Rouge! The Musical on Broadway, rose to the occasion to create a modern update to the popular 2001 Baz Luhrmann film which starred Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
Moulin Rouge! opened July 25th in New York and the original creators were on hand with the new creators and cast to share insights on how the stage adaptation differs from the screen version.
Luhrmann couldn’t be more thrilled about what Timbers did with his movie and neither could Catherine Martin, the films original costume designer. Both were excited to see the production and called it a “legitimate adaptation” that was “exciting” and “brilliant.”
“I honestly feel like I’m a parent of a child that had this great youthful life,” Luhrmann told The Hollywood Reporter on opening night. “I was a young parent, and now it’s grown up and it’s had a new relationship and it’s flourishing here on the stage, interpreted afresh and anew, vital for this time and this place.”
Martin echoed the sentiment and said, “It’s a really legitimate adaptation. It’s not just a slavish re-creation of the movie. It takes into consideration that it’s a musical on Broadway and deals with those parameters in a really fresh and exciting way. I think it’s just a brilliant translation.”
Moulin Rouge! added songs by Adele and Lady Gaga to the already impressive roster of songs. Other artists whose songs were included, at least in the 2018 workshop, are Lorde, Katy Perry, Walk the Moon, and Sia.
Timbers and Luhrmann share a similar artistic direction and found that they also shared similar aesthetics which made Timbers a natural fit to take the reigns. But how exactly does one take all the wild and craziness of the movie and put it on a stage where sets and costume changes are limited?
“The thing that was really challenging about the adaptation process was wanting to nurture the intimacy, the romance, the poetry but also create something that had the kineticism and the electricity that the film has in spades,” Timbers said. “How do you balance those things?”
Perhaps the biggest change from screen to stage was the casting of Karen Olivo as the sparkling diamond herself, Satine, and Aaron Tveit as Christian. Olivo is a stunning actress of color, which just adds a layer of conflict to the forbidden love aspect of the central narrative, especially if one takes into consideration the time period Moulin Rouge! is a part of. However, the changes are for the better and lead to a much more inclusive stage adaptation than the film ever was and Olivo loved the changes.
“Baz and Alex decided to go outside the box, and I think they took a gamble and I think it probably worked, but they were trying to reinvent something,” she said at the opening-night afterparty. “I think that they were looking for someone who likes to take risks so I guess with that in mind, that’s why they picked me.”
To make the opening night even more personal and emotional, this is Tveit’s first Broadway lead since 2011’s Catch Me if You Can. “I’ve been dreaming of this night since then,” he said. “I didn’t know what the show was going to be or who it was going to be with. It really has not hit me yet what that all means, but I will say I’m so happy to be back on Broadway, and the fact that it’s this. I never would have guessed I’d be playing this part when I saw the movie in 2001.”
Moulin Rouge! is now playing at the Al Hirschfeld theatre in New York.