Baz Luhrmann’s breakneck cinematography was one of the notable features of his 2001 film Moulin Rouge! But without a camera to move around madly, it’s the brilliance of his pop-music pastiche that animates the stage version of this tragic, turn-of-the-20th-century love story, now at Fair Park’s Music Hall.
Alongside eye-popping set and lighting design and earthy performances by a Broadway-worthy cast, that acumen with pop tunes turns the touring show of Moulin Rouge! The Musical into a thrilling live spectacle.
In fact, the collages of hit songs stood out so starkly at Sunday’s evening performance that the audience began giggling in recognition every time a new tune emerged from the characters’ mouths. Presented by Broadway Dallas, the show continues through April 2.
The genius is in the ways the songs both embrace and transcend their original meanings. Lyrical and melodic content are deconstructed and then cut and pasted back together to serve the narrative, one snippet flowing seamlessly into the next. It becomes an argument for the power of pop music to express virtually every emotion.
With its variety of songs — “The Sound of Music” to “Material Girl” to “Rolling in the Deep” — it’s one of the few jukebox musicals that truly earn the label. Others like Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! are each built around one artist. A jukebox contains many.
The opening number alone mashes up “Lady Marmalade,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Burning Down The House,” and “Let’s Dance,” and those are just the ones I recognized.
Since the movie, the score has been enriched with more recent tunes, most winningly “Royals,” a collage-within-the-collage of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Gimme Shelter” (for which Luhrmann was unable to secure the rights for the film version) and the hits “Heroes,” “Crazy” and “Toxic.”
What makes Moulin Rouge! The Musical work visually is the scenic design by Derek McLane of hearts within hearts lit with a million bulbs, a saturated color palette, sexy costumes designed by Catherine Zuber and intense dancing choreographed by Sonya Tayeh.
But the big production numbers alternate with more intimate scenes among main characters Christian (Conor Ryan), his would-be lover and Moulin Rouge star Satine (Courtney Reed), Christian’s new friend and collaborator Toulouse-Lautrec (Nick Rashad Burroughs), club owner Harold Zidler (hilarious Austin Durant) and the evil Duke (quietly menacing Andrew Brewer).
Director Alex Timbers brings it all together swimmingly.
On his last night of a tour that began last spring — John Cardoza has taken over the role — Ryan as the sensitive writer newly arrived in Paris jumps out from a cast full of gorgeous singers with acting chops. His elastic tone was breathtaking.
Through April 2 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 1st Ave. $30-$150. broadwaydallas.org.