Touring Broadway production at the Denver Center through June 26

Now here’s a big touring Broadway musical that earns its stripes on just about every level. Based on the 2001 Baz Luhrman film, Moulin Rouge! The Musical has been updated with newer music to piece together its crazy patchwork score with a dizzying array of pop songs cleverly chose for just the right moment.

At its heart, Moulin Rouge is a romance involving the star of the famous Paris cabaret, Satine, and a young American writer new in town, Christian. She is, of course, well beyond his reach, but it only takes a simple case of mistaken identity for the pair to land in one another’s arms. Their bid to pursue their romance is challenged by the failing fortunes of the Moulin Rouge and the rival affections of The Duke of Monroth — a rich jerk who bails out the theatre but expects too much in return.

While its nominally set in 1899, you’ll be forgiven if you have no idea what the hell year it is. This may fall under the category of a jukebox musical, but it’s really more of a pinball musical as the audience is treated to a firehose of recognizable (to most) snippets of pop songs from across the decades. That includes everything from “Brick House,” “Let’s Dance,” “Minnie the Moocher,” “Jungle Boogie” and “Chandelier” to “Every Breath You Take,” “Firework,” “La Vie En Rose,” “Seven Nation Army” and “Shut Up and Dance.” We even get Rick-rolled for a moment with “Never Gonna Give You Up.”

Libby Lloyd and Gabe Martinez as Nini and Santiago

It’s a ton of fun, all driven by a powerhouse pit band and a topnotch cast full of big voices. Of course, if you’re going to do a musical about a place famous for its dancing, choreography is key, and Moulin Rouge goes well above and beyond. Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh, the numbers feature not just a lot of technical expertise but also high-speed changes and sharp changes aided by creative blackouts and other lighting shifts. The costumes by Catherine Zuber are amazing — particularly the highly versatile can-can dresses.

As Satine and Christian, Courtney Reed and Conor Ryan are well-suited in their roles, and they’re aided by strong performances by those in their inner circle at the Moulin Rouge. (This includes a fine turn by Denver’s Andrés Quintero as Baby Doll.) I loved Austin Durant as the owner/emcee Zidler, and Libby Lloyd and Gabe Martinez were fantastic as Nini and Santiago — the other couple in a burgeoning romance. Playing Toulouse-Latrec is André Ward, who does a nice job portraying both the uncompromising artist with someone who both fights and works for The Man.

As big Broadway musicals go, Moulin Rouge features production values that are extraordinary even in a category known for excess. One of the biggest stars is the scenery itself, which fills every square inch of the Buell’s stage and with massive set pieces that move into and out of place with astonishing ease.

The original film with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman didn’t make much of an impression on me (I think I fell asleep) but I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun this stage version was. Tickets are tight, but still available if you jump on them soon.


Random aside: Our night at the Moulin Rouge

In 2018, my wife and youngest son (17 at the time) took a trip to Europe that included a visit to Paris. We asked Andy if there was one thing he’d like to check out, and he ID’d the Moulin Rouge. Our tickets were for pretty late in the evening, but when we got there we realized we’d screwed up: They were for the night before. Since we’d gotten them from a third-party seller, Jen and I had just about given up on gaining entrance, but Andy wasn’t going to get this close and miss out on the Moulin Rouge and the bare boobs within.

His insistence eventually won over one of the bouncers, and somehow we wound up in the office of the general manager of the Moulin Rouge. Forget about anything you’ve ever heard about snooty Frenchmen; this well-tailored gentlemen got on the phone and didn’t give up until he’d arrived at a solution, and we got to our table just as the curtain was going up.

Compared to the Moulin Rouge depicted in the film and the musical, the one we experienced a few years ago was more like a Cirque