Currently, two of the most buzzed-about shows on Broadway, at least since its post-Covid reopening in September 2021, are Moulin Rouge and Mr. Saturday Night (while Moulin Rouge originally opened in late 2019, it had a very short run before Covid shut down the production). In addition to providing a sensational theater-going experience, the two shows share a few more elements: they are both based on movies, and they both capture slices of iconic entertainment history (1950s TV comedy in the US and the Moulin Rouge club in Paris). Even the ticket prices are roughly the same. While one has won 10 Tonys, the other is nominated for 5 Tonys (the 2022 Tony Awards are scheduled for June 2022) and getting rave reviews. But if you are limited in time and budget and can only pick one, which of these two crowd-pleasers should you go to?
Here are three arguments as to why Moulin Rouge is the show to see and another three as to why Mr. Saturday Night is a better choice.
It’s Got Plenty of Wow Factor
This Broadway production is more than just a show – it’s a great spectacle. The staging, design, lighting, and costumes are like eye candy; the on-stage sets, theatrical and grand, are reminiscent in size of iconic Broadway shows like Wicked. While many hits of later years, like Hamilton, The Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen, etc. have had great sets, they weren’t necessarily grand from a pure production-value standpoint, like Moulin Rouge is now. This show offers countless breathtaking “postcard” moments that are etched into the spectator’s mind.
Familiar Tunes You Can Hum
This musical, like the movie, is based on existing pop hits weaved into a story that happens in 1900. The stage production keeps that theme, but many of the show’s songs actually came out after the 2001 movie. Audiences will recognize many hits of recent years, like “Firework” and “Chandelier,” which were smartly weaved into the show’s story and dialogue, providing a major source of appreciation and enjoyment. After all, who doesn’t love listening to familiar songs? That being said, despite knowing most of the songs, the show doesn’t feel like a “jukebox musical” whose storyline has been bent to fit specific songs. Rather, it feels like these songs were created for this story, which only adds to the viewer’s visceral experience, from the very first moment.
It’s Emotionally Big
This show has a story that’s big on emotions. Though it has its share of funny moments too, Moulin Rouge is, at heart, a tragic play. From the first moment to the inevitable end, the story contains big aspects: there’s big drama, big love, and big jealousy. The love at the center of the story is a sacred entity, the show’s villain is as evil as they come, and the friendship is as brave as they come – it’s opera-size in its vividness and is also unapologetic, which fits with the over-the-top world of the show. If you are into a roller coaster of emotions, get a ticket to this show!
Mr. Saturday Night
Seeing a legend like Billy Crystal live on stage is something that will stay with you forever. It’s a bucket-list item for lovers of comedy, and Mr. Crystal lives up to the hype. His comedic timing is what makes him a comedy icon, and he has full command of the audience. Even if he’ll leave the production at some point, his sharp writing and comedic spirit, which is the DNA of the show, will keep shining.
A Satisfying Theater Experience
There is something about Mr. Saturday Night that feels like a fully rounded play with songs more so than just a musical. This is because much of the show’s key moments happen through dialogue and not through song. The songs mostly echo the inner worlds of the characters and are less action-driven. This approach contributes to the show’s depth as viewers feel they are watching a great play featuring full arcs and layered performances by fully developed main characters.
While Mr. Saturday Night is a very dramatic play whose conflicts are deeply rooted in the humanity of its characters, it is ultimately a story about a comedian who is committed to comedy, often at the expense of the people around him. The main driver of the show is actually the main character’s preference for being funny rather than being emphatic. This means that its humor is not just a style of writing and artwork but a major theme in the world of the play. Throughout the show, there is an unending string of beautiful one-liners delivered by a grand comedian portraying a grand comedian.
The Bottom Line: While these two Broadway shows have a lot of similarities, they offer two different viewing experiences. While Moulin Rouge is big on spectacle and has fun and familiar music, Mr. Saturday Night offers a deeper, funnier, and more reflective theater experience. Which do you prefer? You can’t lose with either!