How the ‘Moulin Rouge’ medley ‘Backstage Romance’ came to be

Most musicals begin Act Two with a song that’s, well, something of a shrug — a soundtrack to the shuffling of audience members, who put down their phones, lean back in their seats, and gradually get sucked back into the story onstage enter.

But the stage adaptation of Moulin Rouge! — now on Broadway, in London’s West End and on the road in North America — greets theatergoers from intermission with a roar from the entire cast, who dance their hearts out while performing hits by Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Soft Cell and The White belt out stripes and eurythmy. The track “Backstage Romance” is a cast-wide embodiment of the 2001 film’s maximalist aesthetic.

The six-minute showstopper is widely regarded as the best Act 2 opener in recent memory, and regularly garnered a standing ovation throughout the show. TikTok users have replicated the vibrant routine; The medley was used in Ukraine’s ice dance program at the Winter Olympics.

The Times went behind the scenes of “Backstage Romance” to find out how the high-energy hit parade came about and what it’s like to perform repeatedly at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, where the show runs through September 4th.

John Logan (book author): Our task was to take Baz Luhrmann’s masterpiece of cinematic overkill and, in a way, turn it into theatrical overkill. So, yes, starting the second act with a full blast is definitely risky compared to most musicals, but it always felt like the right thing to do.

Justin Levine (Music Supervisor and Orchestrator): From the beginning we all talked about opening Act 2 with a tribute to “Too Darn Hot” from “Kiss Me, Kate” It’s that backstage moment where you can see performers in the middle of their process.

Logan: The sequence is a scene that was not in the film. It jumps ahead as our bohemians rehearse for the show-within-the-show and choreographer Santiago works with the dancers of the Moulin Rouge. Theater people know that in the middle of rehearsals there’s always that moment when people start having affairs, so Santiago and a dancer named Nini start getting involved, while our forbidden lovers Christian and Satine continue their secret romance.

Dancers warm up on stage

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Sonya Tayeh (choreographer): I love “Backstage Romance” because it really celebrates the body in motion. The idea of ​​unavailability in a secret affair lies in the play’s physical language: Christian keeps trying to get to Satine, missing by a hair’s breadth; With those swirling elevators like tornadoes rolling him up over and over again, he just can’t seem to reach them, knowing the Duke is nearby and watching his every turn. We hurl Christian like he’s being shot into the air from a rocket, but even when he lands something gets in the way. It’s hot-blooded – there’s sexual tension and aggression and a real hyper-physicalism in excess.

Levine: Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” is a song that doesn’t appear in the film but is totally at home with the canon Baz created. Then I put together songs about the painful side of relationships – Britney Spears’ “Toxic”, “Soft Cell”. [cover of] “Tainted Love”, “Seven Nation Army” by the White Stripes and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” by Eurythmics – and made this anti-romantic medley. There was a lot of playing around with the keys, instruments and tempos of these songs to see how they might fit together.

Gabe Martinez (Actor): Christian first has a short monologue that has people off their phones and back on again. Then only Santiago is left alone on stage with a chair and a single spotlight. Sometimes there’s hooting and shouting, sometimes it’s dead quiet; I can feel the audience but I really can’t see anything, which is kind of isolating and very intimidating. But I should be out there with that instant command of the stage. So during intermission I change my costume, stretch and warm up, and then I pace up and down the stage and do what I can to feel like this space is absolutely my domain once the curtain rises.

Lloyd: Before that, I roll out with the foam roller or have a few things worked up in physiotherapy – whatever I can do to be prepared for this marathon. Then I walk up to him on stage and stare at him like a lioness stalking her prey. That’s when people get a sign that something big is about to happen. It feels like a boiling pot where you can feel the lid rattling and popping off and overflowing every second.

Libby Lloyd and Gabe Martinez in the musical adaptation of "Moulin Rouge!" at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.

Libby Lloyd, who plays Nini, left, and Gabe Martinez, who plays Santiago, in the musical adaptation of “Moulin Rouge!” at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Martinez: I have a vocal line that starts out low and inward and growling and then builds to a real crescendo. And then when the tempo kicks in, the audience finds out what song we’re singing and there’s always a laugh of approval. It’s one of dozens of points in the show where we give the audience a moment to say, “Hey, you know this song, isn’t that fun?” There’s never been a single performance where it doesn’t has landed.

Amy Quanbeck (dance captain and swing): Throughout the number the choreography is challenging and dynamic and wild, but each section of the song has a different dynamic. “Toxic” feels enticing because the movements feel drippy and sticky. …

Justin Keats (Assistant Dance Captain and Swing): …whereas “Seven Nation Army” is the complete opposite of putting your foot on the gas pedal. Sonya says it should feel like you’re coming out of the wings screaming. There’s that rubber band feeling that comes from the different pushes and pulls from the initiation in different parts of the body, like it starts in your foot and snaps through your wrists and then rolls around.

Tayeh: I was inspired by how the camera dances in film, with a whip motion and these abrupt cuts. I built that into the movement, using the momentum of the body to create these sudden changes in style and direction.

Quanbeck: “Sweet Dreams” is hard because by this point you’ve already done so much of the number and then you’re in a deep, deep plié for the whole sequence. You need to find that clarity and efficiency in those precise movements.

The cast of "Moulin Rouge"

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Libby Lloyd (actor): It’s all very sexy, of course, but it’s not just sexy in the typical sense, which is so simple. This has so much technique, power, motivation, attack and control in every move. We’re not in overdrive, we’re not straight-legged; We’re plié, pelvis deep, using our glutes and quads to pull that power off the ground and radiate power together.

Tayeh: When the ensemble learns this number, I ask them: how does the unattainable feel in your body? How can you run it externally? I tell them to think about sprinting towards something they want so badly – to love, to want to win – and to bring that difficulty and tension into their physicality.

It is so important to me to ask these questions because they are not machines, but human bodies with a task to tell a story. And all these actors are so talented and have so much to offer. I want them to get their hands on it first; It’s going to feel gritty and a bit messy, but as you keep pushing the “why” behind these moves, it starts to polish itself, it starts to find its bottom. The stricter notes like “Your arm goes here” and “Your form has to land like this for the use of light” – all of this comes last, because the liveliness of every dance lies in the stomach.

Quanbeck: We call the last batch of the number “the glove”. There are multiple elevators, each has its own path and with the lighting design, everything feels like chaos. Every time someone new comes on the show, we rehearse that section as a whole because it really has a trickle effect.

Courtney Reed (actor): That was one of the hardest things on the show for me to learn because when you’re in the audience it seems like so many things happen pretty seamlessly, but it’s actually extremely complicated and exhausting. And when you screw up one thing, it has a knock-on effect on everything else.

Conor Ryan (actor): The “Glove” notes that the people of the Moulin Rouge are becoming aware of their scandalous situation. There is a little bit of dialogue where Courtney and I get together between the costume racks and plan a secret meeting later tonight. But the tension with the Duke, the stakes getting higher and higher for Christian and Satine, the feeling that trouble is just around the corner – all these stories are told so beautifully and compellingly through Sonya’s choreography in this final section.

"Moulin Rouge" number "Backstage romance"

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Martinez: It’s a marathon number that just never seems to end, and when it finally does, the audience applauds for what feels like a full minute. We hold our last pose until they’re done applauding, but it’s a very, very difficult pose.

Lloyd: I’m trying to absorb the energy that the audience is giving us, but I’m also breathing heavily, leaning back and tensing every muscle I have. We let go when André Ward, who plays Toulouse-Lautrec, says, “I’ve got some notes,” so we let go and sigh and groan. It’s perfect because we react to what he’s saying, but we’re also so relieved to come out of that pose.

Ryan: I’m comfortable because I’m on my knees and basically having a moment to sit, but I’m the foremost member of the formation and all the cast members have been instructed to focus on me choreographically. They’re all leaning back on their torsos, holding that abs pose, shaking and gasping, and they’re staring straight at me while keeping those wild looks on their faces. It’s kind of funny, they look like they want to murder me and I just look back at them all like, “You guys are so close, it’s almost over.”

Keats: It’s so rewarding to do a number that’s so ensemble-forward and really shows their talent. It’s amazing every time and I’m still just as excited as the audience.

Tayeh: There have been many times in my experiences as a choreographer where the dance felt secondary to the narrative and just wasn’t held to the standard of where it could be, which is disheartening. In Moulin Rouge, the ensemble is incredibly integral to the overall narrative structure.

So when I see the audience bobbing their heads to “Backstage Romance” and giving the cast a thunderous round of applause, I know they sensed something. And that’s all I want, to remind people what dance can do and what this company can do. I know how hard they work and what is asked of them so it makes me so happy to see them celebrated with such a visceral response.

‘Moulin Rouge! The musical’

Where: Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., LA

When: Tuesday to Friday 8 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m. and 6.30 p.m.; until January 2nd

Tickets: Start at $39

Info: (866) 755-2929 or through Ticketmaster, (800) 982-2787 or Ticketmaster.com

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (with a break)

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/tv/story/2022-07-08/moulin-rouge-musical-backstage-romance How the ‘Moulin Rouge’ medley ‘Backstage Romance’ came to be

Sarah Ridley

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