Pre-Broadway Review: ‘Moulin Rouge!’

Yes they can-can — they can transform Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 absinthe-tinged fantasia “Moulin Rouge!” into a socko stage spectacular. The story’s been strengthened in this splashy production, while expectations of cinema-inspired visual splendor are met and even exceeded. As for its song score, you can forget about your so-called jukebox shows and their dozen or so standards shoved into a narrative. With 70-odd pop smashes — from Piaf to Perry, from “Lady Marmalade” to Lady Gaga — baked into its dialogue and DNA, “Moulin Rouge!” has a battery that never runs down. Future prospects on Broadway and beyond, following this brief premiere engagement resuscitating Boston’s venerable Emerson Colonial Theater, seem as rosy-red as the luscious crimson wash poured over the whole business.

The production delivers — does it ever — on Luhrmann and creative partner Catherine Martin’s signature aesthetic, a delirious meld of modern Clubland attitudes and La Belle Epoque revolutionary fervor. With a glittering red windmill spinning above house left and a giant blue elephant rearing over house right, Derek McLane’s set evokes the fabled Montmartre nitery in Valentine’s Day candybox mode, later shifting — with the help of Justin Townsend’s daring, supple lighting effects — into stark film noir on Paris’s mean streets.

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