Updated: Mar 12
Abroad in New York
Faces awash in a red, neon glow, we head into a local landmark for all things French. But the light doesn’t emanate from the glowing L’amour sign, an oversized easter egg found throughout the Baz Lurhmann cinematic and stage-based universe. Instead, these letters spell out “THE ODEON”, the French-inspired TriBeCa mainstay by New York restaurateur Keith McNally. And it’s here, over pre-show martinis and frites, that we outline a thesis that I have always held dear, one further cemented by the outlandishly garish and objectively spectacular set pieces of Broadway’s Moulin Rouge: Americans can distill and amplify the French aesthetic, its promises, and its romance even better than the French themselves. You can see it in the soft yellow lighting at Balthazar, the chipped and aged subway tiles at Pastis, or the antiqued mirrors at Odeon (all, might I add, Keith McNally restaurants that play host to a unique form of dinner theater). You can feel it, also, in Luhmann’s L’amour sign, a playful anachronism that feels so Times Square, so Las Vegas, but also, so French - it’s a French word! The feeling is there, it’s in the costumes, the sets, the songs; it’s unavoidable. Moulin Rouge leans into a decidedly American conception of Paris - the escapism, the romance, the opportunity to remake yourself - and amplifies these ideas to a comically large statue that, at points, even quivers beneath its own weight. But similar to the beliefs we must suspend when we eat at New York’s most venerable French institutions - cafes in Paris, after all, don’t really feel like this - we must also acknowledge the playful and glaringly make-believe nature of this production. As the setlist of decades worth of top-ten pop hits seems to suggest, Moulin Rouge is saccharine, uncomplicated, here just for your enjoyment. This conception of Paris makes no claims of authenticity, but it feels all the more persuasive because of its careless extravagance.