Moulin Rouge on Broadway is the long-awaited stage version of the beloved 2001 movie and the question is does it measure up to – or even surpass – the big-screen version?
You probably know more than you think about John Logan, the Irish-American playwright and screenwriter who has just adapted Baz Luhurman's celebrated film "Moulin Rouge" for the Broadway stage.
For one, the 57-year-old son of two parents from Northern Ireland has written screenplays to movies like "Skyfall," "Gladiator" and "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." So he's already one of the hottest and highest-paid writers in Hollywood, with an apartment in Soho and a home in Malibu.
Added to that the San-Diego-raised writer also won the 2010 Tony award for his Broadway smash about the painter Mark Rothko called "Red."
You've also seen his work on the small screen in the popular Irish-made TV drama starring Josh Hartnett called "Penny Dreadful." If you haven't heard about him more often it's probably because he grew up in California rather than Cork.
The greatest American playwright Eugene O'Neill used to grouse that critics never noticed he was Irish, or just how Irish his best works in fact were, is that also true of Logan? Has he be given his due as a remarkably successful son of the Diaspora?
“I don't think I do!” Logan tells IrishCentral with a laugh.
“I wish I did. I play my Northern Irish heritage card whenever I possibly can. And you know my husband is from Dublin, where I spent three years shooting the TV show 'Penny Dreadful.' So even beyond my own personal ones, my connections to Ireland are very, very deep.”
Being raised in an Irish household with Irish parents was enviable training for a writer, he says: “I think if you're raised in an Irish household, you are raised in a very verbal household and my family was very quick, very literate, very literary."
"Like most Irish people I know, there was always a lot of poetry, jokes, songs and language going on. But Eugene O'Neill was right that he didn't get enough credit! I mean he's as Irish as the Irish. But by the same token, I was born in San Diego, so I'm kind of a natural Californian.”
Perhaps that dual identity explains why Logan has conquered Hollywood, Broadway and the West End, a hat trick achieved by very few. With that resume, it's no wonder he was the man the producers and director of "Moulin Rouge" on Broadway turned to when they decided to bring the beloved 2001 film to the stage (with creative services provided by Baz Luhrmann).
“Well, you know, the advantage of having worked in both theater and film is that you know the challenges and unique opportunities of both. The essential thing going into Moulin Rouge on Broadway was realizing that the baseline DNA of theater is very different than cinema.
Making it work involved deepening Moulin Rouge's characters backstories and relationships (lead characters Christian and Satine are given much more to work with this go-round) providing the ramp-up for each character's songs, all the things you do in any original musical the way you would if you were doing South Pacific, Logan says.
You said your husband is from Dublin, how did you meet?: “I met him when I was there first, a week before we started filming 'Penny Dreadful.' I was out with some of the actors and some of the production companies and I just met him and we started dating and we married two years ago, he's a proper, proper Californian now.”
It was an instant attraction, just the right meeting of people, Logan says: “The fact that he'd come from a fun, entertaining Dublin family is just sort of the icing on the cake.”
The pair travel back to Dublin and Ireland all the time for their families and they worked on "Penny Dreadful" for years together, Logan adds. The popular TV show is coming back, by the way, but with a new twist this time – it will be set in Los Angles about 35 years after the original show.
Meanwhile "Moulin Rouge" has opened to unmitigated hosannas from the critics. Many have stated that show is exactly the kind of restorative, uplifting spectacle these dark times demand.
That's because Moulin Rouge in Logan's telling is a story about all that is possible, a story that deliberately blurs the lines between the sexes, sexual orientations and backgrounds and in doing so, also pushes back against the grim period of history we are currently living in. That must have been intentional, surely?
“You know, we live in a treacherous, dark and difficult world so to get to tell a story about truth, beauty, freedom and love in a story that is inclusive of gender, of race, of human experience? A story that is so accepting of all? Well, all of us who are working on it felt that it gave us the armor to deal with the difficult times that we're living in.”
It's also one of the gayest things I've ever seen on Broadway. I mean gay in the original sense that it's funny and bright as well as often defiantly queer and it makes no distinction between what's possible for anyone on the stage.
“Yeah, I mean it was always meant to be a celebration of humanity in all its forms. Gay, gray, black, white, young, old, men, women, you know, that's what the state of mind of the real Moulin Rouge was, and that's what we were trying to create. And I mean, I'm not saying this the audience is, which is lovely. I think they've been really sort of understanding that it's meant to be a celebration of human experience.”
Theater, when it really works, when a cast comes together seamlessly, is a kind of magic that connects to the audience and that's what "Moulin Rouge" is. You must be feeling thrilled that it's gone over so big critically and commercially?
“I'm delighted because you know when you take on a beloved subject like Moulin Rouge – you know deeply people love that movie – you don't want to disappoint them.
"I liked working on the two James Bond films because again there was such a legacy to protect and a history around it. In all cases, you want to satisfy the fans but also give them something new and something different, with new evolutions.
"So it's a relief number one that we didn't mess it up, and then it's very gratifying that people sort of understand what we were trying to do!”
In Moulin Rouge, Logan, the son of Irish immigrants, has created an irresistible spectacle that is driven by other immigrants, artists, dancers, chancers, poets and singers, and a reminder of the riches every nation and society can bring to art.
It's the perfect response to this low age of renewed bigotry and insularity, and good lord does it rock. From David Bowie to Elton John to hints of Beyonce and Bono, it's the restorative jukebox musical for this deeply anxious time.
Do not miss it!
Have you caught Moulin Rouge on Broadway yet? Let us know in the comments section, below.