Baz Luhrmann, 'Moulin Rouge!' Team Talk Turning Movie Into Broadway Show

Jenny Anderson
Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin, fifth and sixth from left, with the creative team of 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical'

"It’s not just a slavish re-creation of the movie," says the film’s costume and production designer Catherine Martin of the stage version. “It takes into consideration that it’s a musical on Broadway and deals with those parameters in a really fresh and exciting way."

Eighteen years after Moulin Rouge! reinvented the jukebox musical onscreen, the bohemian love story set in turn-of-the-century Paris has finally come to Broadway, and the film’s director Baz Luhrmann feels like his child has grown up.

“I honestly feel like I’m a parent of a child that had this great youthful life," Luhrmann told The Hollywood Reporter at the musical's opening night. "I was a young parent, and now it’s grown up and it’s had a new relationship and it’s flourishing here on the stage, interpreted afresh and anew, vital for this time and this place.”

Luhrmann’s wife and collaborator on the original film, four-time Oscar winner Catherine Martin, was equally delighted to see the story re-envisioned for the theater.

“It’s a really legitimate adaptation. It’s not just a slavish re-creation of the movie,” Martin, the film’s costume and production designer, told THR. “It takes into consideration that it’s a musical on Broadway and deals with those parameters in a really fresh and exciting way. I think it’s just a brilliant translation.”

Luhrmann handed the directorial reins to Alex Timbers, as he’d been a fan of Timbers’ earlier work on shows like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Here Lies Love.

“We’re somehow related in our aesthetic and in our storytelling style,” Luhrmann said, adding that he really let Timbers run with his ideas for the stage. “As soon as I met him, I was like, This is the guy. If I’m the old dad, I thought, maybe, if he’s not my son, he’s definitely my nephew.”

For Timbers and his team, the goal was to take the magic and theatricality of the film and translate that to a Broadway environment.

“The thing that was really challenging about the adaptation process was wanting to nurture the intimacy, the romance, the poetry but also create something that had the kineticism and the electricity that the film has in spades," Timbers said. "How do you balance those things?”

Luhrmann applauds Timbers’ ambitious choices, particularly in casting and taking the central roles of Satine and Christian away from the performances created onscreen by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. For Karen Olivo, who plays the Parisian courtesan, the risk was worth it.

“Baz and Alex decided to go outside the box, and I think they took a gamble and I think it probably worked, but they were trying to reinvent something,” Olivo said at the opening-night afterparty. “I think that they were looking for someone who likes to take risks so I guess with that in mind, that’s why they picked me.”

Danny Burstein, who plays the master of ceremonies Harold Zidler, said he received an email from Jim Broadbent, who played the role onscreen.

“He wished me well and said he couldn’t wait to see the show,” Burstein said. “I take inspiration from the original performance and then do my best to try to make it my own at the same time.”

The entire evening was inspired by the show’s bohemian ideals of freedom, beauty, truth and love, and even the fashion felt on theme. Olivo wore a custom red suit inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec and Cartier, while Aaron Tveit, who plays Christian, wore a red patterned suit by Alexander McQueen.

The night felt particularly significant for Tveit, who was last on Broadway in 2011 in Catch Me If You Can, and has taken time away from the stage to do more film and television work.

“I closed a show in 2011 that in my opinion closed too soon," Tveit said. "I’ve been dreaming of this night since then. I didn’t know what the show was going to be or who it was going to be with. It really has not hit me yet what that all means, but I will say I’m so happy to be back on Broadway, and the fact that it’s this. I never would have guessed I’d be playing this part when I saw the movie in 2001.”

Even Luhrmann is feeling a bit nostalgic for his bohemian days working on the film. He’s been posting behind-the-scenes footage from the film on Instagram and has been inspired by his time on the set.

“I realized how passionate we were and how much work we did and how we didn’t pay heed to people saying the music will never work,” Luhrmann said. “We just believed and did it.”