Tuesday, June 25, 2024

'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' inspires connection through Broadway-level storytelling

April 7, 2024
<p>Harold Zidler, played by Robert Petkoff, and characters played by the North American cast of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical." Photo courtesy of Matthew Murray.</p>

Harold Zidler, played by Robert Petkoff, and characters played by the North American cast of "Moulin Rouge! The Musical." Photo courtesy of Matthew Murray.

“Moulin Rouge! The Musical” opened on April 2 for its two week run at the Wharton Center. Audience members saw the first week of shows and left with a shared experience of a true Broadway-level lovestory.

Taking place in the titular Moulin Rouge cabaret club in Paris, the production tells the tale of a youthful composer named Christian as he finds himself hopelessly in love with the club’s star performer, Satine. Told through original music and unique medlies of famous love songs, Christian, now caught in a love triangle, fights to let his voice ring out in favor of true love.

Actor Robert Petkoff plays Harold Zidler in the production. Zidler is the mischievous host and director of the Moulin Rouge. Bearing the burden of the Moulin Rouge’s financial troubles but having a father-like role in Satine’s life, his motivations are often muddled and mysterious.

Petkoff said playing a character with such complex emotionality excited him. However, he said if at the beginning of the show he were to look at the places he’d have to go emotionally, he would “lose himself.”

Petkoff instead employed a unique method for getting in character.

“I don't look at where I'm going to end up by the end of the night,” Petkoff said. “I have to look at what I am starting with and then as those moments come … play with the actresses playing Satine.”

Looking to other cast members for reactions to interpret is a must, he said.

“Be open to whatever's going to change night to night,” Petkoff said. “And that's the other thing— the actresses themselves approach it differently every night. It changes and that's what makes the show exciting for an audience to watch.”


Petkoff said the variation of live theater is what allows audience members to feel as though they’re watching a production for the first time.

“As actors, our job is to make you think that it's happening for the first time, and many nights, it is happening for the first time— so that's really fun,” Petkoff said.

Psychology and theater freshman Katelyn Kraemer had the chance to see “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” on Broadway and at Wharton Center last week.

“There were only very few, minor changes, and those changes were honestly because they're touring,” Kraemer said. “Everything within the stage, even the set, the costumes, the lights— it was almost exactly the same and just that same thrill and joy of an experience.”

Petkoff said part of the thrill of live theater comes from the fact that it’s a shared experience.

“When you see something that moves you and you start getting emotional and two seats over you hear sniffling, you think, ‘I'm not alone,’” Petkoff said. “‘I'm having this feeling and so are so many people here and I'm a part of a larger community. I'm a part of a whole world of people and we're all experiencing this emotional thing at the same time.’”


He added that students being able to enter a space that features community reaction is important and reactive collaboration isn’t only limited to the audience.

“The difference is that there are live people that respond to your response,” Petkoff said. “When I sing ‘Chandelier,’ some nights the crowd cheers — they start moving and screaming and yelling because it's so visually exciting to hear that song. It just sends me into the stratosphere and I suddenly have this whole new burst of energy and this whole different set of feelings about it that I move back into the role of Zidler.”

He said live theater provides variety because of “an interplay between the audience and the actors.”

Variety could also be found in this year’s Wharton Center season selections, Kraemer said.

“It's really awesome to see that Wharton Center brings in a variety of productions,” Kraemer said. “This is such a large scale production and it's got the big musical numbers, but earlier this year the Wharton Center brought in a lot of more emotional and dramatic productions. It’s really awesome to be able to see a wide variety of performances right at Wharton Center.”

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Tickets for “Moulin Rouge! The Musical” and any of the other shows the center offers can be found on Wharton Center's website.


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