Bringing Broadway Spectacle Back to Life

Derek McLane is a big-time set designer, who works regularly on and off Broadway and has designed the set for the Oscars six times. He’s also a New Yorker, and there’s this one rat he sees so often, he calls him Joe.

So after more than a year away from the Hirschfeld Theater, where “Moulin Rouge!” was and will be playing, McLane had one gnawing (sorry) fear: “My fantasy was that maybe rats had eaten parts of the set.”

Happily, it was not so; when McLane finally made it back to check out his handiwork, there was still confetti on the floor from the final performance 18 months ago, and the set seemed just fine.

The “Moulin Rouge!” stage is exuberantly red, much of the action takes place in a heart-shaped frame, and there are eye-catching nods to the 19th Century French cabaret in which it is set: a windmill, an elephant and, hovering above, a 22-foot-wide, two-layered neon sign spelling out the show’s title.

The sign is displayed at various heights during the show, rising up as the action begins, cued by a gesture from the show’s handsome hero, Christian.

“It’s fashioned after the font of the original club from the 1890s, and it’s a font you see in a lot of Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters,” McLane said. “There’s something fun and theatrical about having this neon sign that acts like a show curtain, and it kind of evokes, in a ridiculous way, the chandeliers rising at the Met to start a show.”

When the stage crew returned to the theater this summer, the neon at first didn’t seem to work anymore. “Something happens when it’s not electrified for a while,” McLane said. “But they left it on, and after an hour or two it came back to life.” The rest of the machinery, including the motors that fly in big pieces of scenery, checked out too.

“Moulin Rouge!” is scheduled to resume performances Sept. 24. “There’s a little bit of dusting and vacuuming to be done, but the scenery is basically ready for the cast,” McLane said. “We’ve all waited for this a long time.”

Newyork timek

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