'Moulin Rouge!' The Musical Opens Tonight On Broadway The new Broadway show Moulin Rouge! has more than 70 songs. It is a big, bombastic, jukebox musical about a time and place before jukeboxes.
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'Moulin Rouge!' The Musical Opens Tonight On Broadway

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'Moulin Rouge!' The Musical Opens Tonight On Broadway

'Moulin Rouge!' The Musical Opens Tonight On Broadway

'Moulin Rouge!' The Musical Opens Tonight On Broadway

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/745159417/745159418" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The new Broadway show Moulin Rouge! has more than 70 songs. It is a big, bombastic, jukebox musical about a time and place before jukeboxes.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Baz Luhrmann's 2001 movie "Moulin Rouge!" starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor was a worldwide hit. It's still so popular that YouTube is filled with recreations of fans' favorite moments. So it's not surprising the film has been adapted for the stage in a new Broadway musical that opens tonight. Jeff Lunden reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTI LABELLE SONG, "LADY MARMALADE")

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Don't worry. A lot of things people loved about the film are in the show, including a rousing rendition of Patti LaBelle's 1974 hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADY MARMALADE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Hey, sister. Go, sister. Soul sister. Flow sister. Hey, sister. Go, sister. Soul sister. Flow sister.

LUNDEN: And the basic outlines of the plot still remain. A love triangle between a tubercular cabaret singer, a bohemian poet and an evil duke, all set in 1899, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LADY MARMALADE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in French).

LUNDEN: But you can't put a film onstage.

ALEX TIMBERS: We don't have Steadicams rushing through the streets of Paris. We don't have whip pans. We don't have, you know, music video-style editing.

LUNDEN: Alex Timbers directs the $28 million musical.

TIMBERS: So part of that was just, like, kicking down the footlights from the beginning and putting ramps and runways into the audience, embracing the immersive aspect of it, using pop concert lighting and sound design.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAB CALLOWAY SONG, "HI-DE-HO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Hah-dee, hah-dee, hah-dee, hah (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Hah-dee, hah-dee, hah-dee, hah.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, singing) Ho-dee, ho-dee, ho-dee, ho.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing) Ho-dee, ho-dee, ho-dee, ho.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Singing, as character) Ya, ya, ya.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing, as characters) Ya, ya, ya.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Singing, as character) Ya, ya, ya.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing, as characters) Ya, ya, ya.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (Singing, as character) Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, everybody.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXUBERANT FANFARE MUSIC)

LUNDEN: The aesthetic here is what the musical's creators call lux maximalism. And Tony Award-winning set designer Derek McLane says it hits you as soon as you walk into the theater.

DEREK MCLANE: Not only is there a big set onstage, but we covered all the walls in red velvet, and we clad the balconies in carved railings that have cherubs and windmills in them. And we hung drapes from the ceiling. We hung a whole bunch of extra chandeliers.

LUNDEN: The show's also got 71 pieces of music in 2 1/2 hours.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "MOULIN ROUGE!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) In the name of love. One night in the name of love.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, singing) You crazy fool, I won't give into you. won't give it to you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) It's so easy. All you have to do is fall in love.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, singing) Love hurts.

LUNDEN: Music supervisor Justin Levine crammed 20 of them into one five-minute sequence.

JUSTIN LEVINE: I just made a list of all of the love songs that I could think of and all the anti-love songs I could think of. And so I printed up lyrics, and I cut up pieces of them, and I put them all over my floor in my studio. And as I started to build the shape of it, I demoed it out on my computer.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "MOULIN ROUGE!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, singing) Need you by my side. Girl, you'll be my bride. You'll never be denied everlasting love.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, singing) What's love got to do, got to do with it? What's love but a secondhand emotion?

CARMEN PAVLOVIC: Those 71 songs are represented by 161 different composers.

LUNDEN: So it took producer Carmen Pavlovic and a team of five lawyers three years to lock down the rights.

PAVLOVIC: People often don't realize we don't just go and get the permission of the vocalist. We have to go to every person who actually in any way contributed to the writing of the song. And typically with pop songs, that can be one, two, three, four, five, in some instances, 11 different writers. And, you know, quite famously, we really wanted to place "Uptown Funk" in the show, and that has five publishers and 11 artists. And 10 of the 11 artists said yes, and the eleventh said no.

LUNDEN: Pavlovic says all of those songwriters share a percentage of the typical songwriters' royalty, which is 4% of the box-office gross.

PAVLOVIC: We time the music of the show to the second, and then we work out what fraction of work each of those artists represents as a percentage of the whole. And that's how we divide up the royalties.

LUNDEN: Of course, those percentages won't add up to much if "Moulin Rouge!" isn't a hit. But the show has sold out all its preview performances, and despite the over-the-top production and relentless stream of music, producer Carmen Pavlovic says director Alex Timbers has found a way to also tell an intimate love story.

PAVLOVIC: Somehow in all of that maximalism in every area - design, costume, music - somehow Alex, I think, has still managed to keep heart and stakes and drama.

LUNDEN: Without a Steadicam or jump cuts or close-ups. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADWAY PLAY, "MOULIN ROUGE!")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Nothing can keep us together.

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