Welcome to HillSide Story! We are two musical theatre nerds who will be sharing our hot and not-so-hot takes on movie musicals. As the Leading Player says from the musical “Pippin” (1972), “join us.”
Anna Hirshman (AH): Today we are on the bohemian streets of Paris with “Moulin Rouge” (2001). We should start with some disclaimers. I had seen the movie before, and we saw the stage musical together in Boston.
Allie Morgenstern (AM): I also saw it this summer when it came to Broadway after it had gone through some changes.
AH: First, it’s important to understand that this movie exists in a kind of alternate reality, and I’m fully on board with that. Second, we cannot discuss this film without a deep dive into the character of The Duke. You think you know what the words slimy and cringy mean, and then you see Richard Roxburgh.
AM: On the other hand, Tam Mutu, who plays The Duke on Broadway, is very attractive and suave. On stage, Satine’s choice between The Duke and Christian is less clear because The Duke isn’t creepy and totally awful. We are still meant to root against him, but it is easier to see why Satine struggles to choose.
AH: Also, what is the deal with the treatment of Satine’s illness? She goes from being totally fine to fainting and spitting up blood to pulling off huge dance numbers. Consumption is tuberculosis. And it is super contagious.
AM: Yeah, why are they making her do things with strange men who have germs when she’s ill? Also, wouldn’t Christian get sick? That’s inconsiderate.
AH: My favorite scene in the movie is not a musical one, surprisingly. It is when Satine is trying to seduce Christian because she thinks he’s a rich duke, but Christian just wants to read her his poetry.
AM: It will never not make me feel uncomfortable. I had second-hand embarrassment.
AH: The writers do a remarkable job of creating sexual innuendos, and yet I still don’t understand what Satine thinks poetry means.
AM: And yet I am still uncomfortable.
AH: After seeing the stage production, I do miss the evolution of all of the supporting characters.
AM: Yes, I think there are pros and cons to the ways the movie and the stage production develop the supporting characters. I really loved how characters like Toulouse-Lautrec and Harold Zidler had really strong, defined roles on stage.
AH: However, the lack of supporting character development did allow for more chemistry to build in the movie. I found the relationship to be more convincing.
AM: Except I don’t like when people breathe on me. And they breathe into each other’s mouths when they’re singing.
AH: Ok. Let’s talk about Ewan McGregor.
AM: He’s beautiful. His eyes, ugh. And it is like the voice of God is coming out of his mouth.
AH: Now, whichever version you see first, be aware that the music choices are slightly different.
AM: I like the “Elephant Love Medley” better in the stage show, but it’s a fabulous medley either way. But the movie does include “Silly Love Songs” (1976), a banger. It slaps.
AH: It reminded me that my favorite thing about musicals is that we don’t question that everyone knows all the words and choreography. Also, the musical and movie made me want to try absinthe just to see what it’s like.
AM: And to swing from chandeliers in real life. Like Esteban in “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody” (2005–08).