In 2001, the jukebox musical romantic drama film “Moulin Rouge” – directed, co-produced, and co-written by Baz Luhrmann – was released and dazzled moviegoers with its stylized production and captivating concept.
Nearly 20 years later, Luhrmann’s over-the-top visuals and musical mosaic has been translated to the stage, and it’s even more dazzling live.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” won 10 Tony Awards in 2021 including Best Musical, two Drama League Awards including Outstanding Production of a Musical, five Drama Desk Awards and 10 Outer Critics Circle Award Honor citations including New Broadway Musical.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” opened to critical acclaim at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in the summer of 2019 but like all Broadway shows shut down at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. The show reopened in September 2021, followed by a touring production that opened November 9 at Segerstrom Center and runs through November 17.
The New York Times called the show “Spectacular! Euphoric!” The New York Post deemed the show “a fabulous new musical. The high begins the instant you walk into the theatre.” And Entertainment Weekly said “it’s easy to believe that ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ could run for 50 years.”
As the press material for the show states, “Enter a world of splendor and romance, of eye-popping excess, of glitz, grandeur and glory! A world where Bohemians and aristocrats rub elbows and revel in electrifying enchantment. Pop the champagne and prepare for the spectacular…Baz Luhrmann’s iconic film comes to life onstage, remixed in a new musical mash-up extravaganza. ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ is a theatrical celebration of Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and – above all – Love. ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’ is more than a musical; it is a state of mind.”
If you saw Luhrmann’s latest movie musical, the biopic “Elvis” released last summer, you’ll be reminded of what’s in store for audiences in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” although “Elvis” is not nearly as visually extravagant nor musically diverse.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” celebrates over 160 years of music, from Offenbach to Lady Gaga. The stage musical features many of the iconic songs from the movie, and also includes recent hits released since the movie premiered 20 years ago.
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” features a lot of dancing. A lot. Just ask Justin Keats.
Keats is the Assistant Dance Captain and Swing of the First National Tour of “Moulin Rouge!”
So what is a Dance Captain and a Swing?
A Dance Captain is a member of the company responsible for overseeing and maintaining the artistic standards of all choreography and musical staging within a production. This can include making sure all members of the ensemble are doing the choreography correctly, and being able to demonstrate areas of the choreography for the rest of the ensemble
A Swing is responsible for understudying multiple ensemble tracks in a show. The number of tracks depends on the size and diversity of the ensemble. When a swing goes on in place of the regular company member, they must execute the track exactly.
“Being a Swing in this show is a wild time but in the best way,” confessed Keats. “As a swing I cover nine ensemble members. We use ‘flats’ and ‘heels’ to describe characters and artists, I cover nine flats so I know nine versions of the show, and so far I have been on for eight of them.”
And as assistant Dance Captain, Keats said “I am in charge maintaining and upholding the integrity of the show from a dance perspective, which includes rehearsing new members, giving notes, helping put people into the show—basically making the show run from a dance perspective.”
Fortunately for Keats, he had terrific dance training. He got his BFA in Dance Performance from the University of California, Irvine in 2011. He danced at Disneyland throughout his time in college—school by day and dancing at night.
Thanks to Disney he was able to get his Equity card, which built his confidence to try out for other shows. His credits include the musicals “Escape to Margaritaville” and “Damn Yankees,” as well as the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York.
The process for auditioning and booking “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” was challenging.
“I auditioned in February and March 2020 for the Broadway show and the tour simultaneously,” recalled Keats. “I got all the way to final callbacks when the shutdowns happened. I did not hear anything until June of 2020, when they told me once they had dates they would announce what was happening and there would potentially be a part for me on the tour.”
One year later his agent called and said he was being offered the role of Swing on the national tour, which was starting in January 2022 but due to a Covid surge got pushed back.
Keats kept busy during the Covid hiatus.
“I did a grab bag mix of things,” said Keats. “I taught for a Pilates fitness class online and then in person when it was safe to do so, and I worked for my dad’s company doing cultural enrichment online, and then small theater opportunities as they arose including Norwegian Cruise Line. And I did a lot of yoga—it kept me sane and physically ready to do this show.”
“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” is indeed physically challenging, said Keats.
“Doing this show is like jumping on a roller coaster and taking a ride. The adrenaline rush, the fear, the excitement, the joy. It’s a blast.”
Keats agreed that the stage version is as stylized as the movie.
“There are some amazing light changes, and you are pulled into the set in a fantastic way,” explained Keats. “We make audiences feel really warm and force you to look at us. We keep the engine running with great music and incredible dancing, and the characters are so full and warm and heartfelt, you can’t help but be excited by it.”
“The way the songs are strung together is really fun,” added Keats. Audiences are having an incredible time, we get waves of applause.”
Keats is naturally excited to be back in Orange County and having his dance teachers from UCI attend the show. And his parents, who live in Dana Point. He’ll get to stay with them instead of his normal hotel room.
“I hope to spend time at lifeguard tower 15 in Laguna Beach like I did growing up,” said Keats.
In the meantime, he’s spending his time dancing in “Moulin Rouge! The Musical.”
For tickets, visit www.SCFTA.org or call the box office at (714) 556-2787.
For more information on “Moulin Rouge!” visit www.MoulinRougeMusical.com.