Exit Lines: “Moulin Rouge!”

The camera doesn’t lie–while it may be a publicity still, the photo above is exactly what greets you when you enter the Hirschfeld for Moulin Rouge! The Musical! The former home of Kinky Boots is kicking up its skirts for the latest movie-into-musical, and the wonder is why it took 18 years. Baz Luhrmann’s Oscar-winning hit is a stage natural that fits right into the snugly sinuous theater, elephant and windmills and all.

Moulin Rouge! (2001) didn’t invent the jukebox musical, but it cleverly repurposed it, taking bits and pieces of numerous Top Forty hits and applying  a soundtrack-of-our-lives soundscape to a stock romantic tragedy from a sexy bohemian yesteryear. The Broadway version pumps up the volume; if about two dozen songs mix-mastered in the film seemed excessive, hang on, as there are some 70 in the show, including more up-to-the-minute greatest hits from Adele, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. 

But the effect is more exciting than overwhelming, a problem with the film, whose unrelenting editing rarely paused for breath. Live may be more complementary for the effect; your eyes are riveted to the stars, to the chorus, wherever the focus is. (Luhrmann served as creative consultant.) From the get-go–a pre-show act, followed by a dynamic staging of “Lady Marmalade”–it hooks you more deeply. That the stars of the show have greater vocal range and more supple dance technique than the stars of the movie (a perennial issue with contemporary movie musicals) is a major plus in putting it across. Simply put, the stage musical is the “spectacular spectacular” that the movie tried so hard to be, and sometimes was.

As drama, however, Moulin Rouge! will always be a bit wanting. Book writer John Logan, a Tony winner for Red and a veteran screenwriter, mostly gets out of the way of the musical numbers in retelling the star-crossed love affair of sweet-natured songwriter Christian (Aaron Tveit, Next to Normal) and Moulin Rouge sensation and courtesan Satine (Karen Olivo, a Tony winner for West Side Story), slipping in dialogue scenes here and there (as in the film, some of the chatter is song lyrics, passed back and forth by the characters). But he and director Alex Timbers (whose adaptation of Beetlejuice is a textbook example of how not to bring a movie to musical stage life) have changed the emotional polarity of Satine, from Nicole Kidman’s breathier, fantasy portrayal to a harder-hearted, nobody’s fool version. Vulnerability is out in the #MeToo era, so here we have a Satine who looks and acts fully capable of beating consumption and her oily patron, the Duke (Tam Mutu). Olivo is terrific in sound and motion, but lacks the poignant softness that Kidman brought to the part, blunting the ending…

…which segues into a fantastic curtain call, so the disappointment is lessened. This Moulin Rouge is all about sensation and atmosphere, with the great Danny Burstein clearly having a whale of a time as owner and MC Harold Zidler, whipping the company into frenzies. As Tveit, a steadying presence, expertly handles quieter numbers like “Your Song,” everyone else has a Big Moment: Mutu’s comes with his introduction, to “Sympathy for the Devil,” Ricky Rojas and Robyn Hurder enact a sizzling “Bad Romance” in dance (Sonya Tayeh is the choreographer); and Sahr Ngaujah (Fela!), a less twitchy Toulouse-Lautrec than John Leguizamo, knocks “Nature Boy” right out of the theater. (A real haymaker of a scene, one that works on the newly available original cast album but that only settles into your bones when experienced live.)

Timbers, who loves to play dress-up in his theatrical spaces, is stuck with the Winter Garden, a barn, for Beetlejuice. The more intimate Hirschfeld provides a more fertile playground, and the show is a field day for Derek McLane (sets), Catherine Zuber (costumes), Justin Townsend (lighting), and Peter Hylenski (sound). You’re bound to sing along with some of Moulin Rouge! while watching it; you’ll exit humming the production, a contact high I still feel.

Dizzy Heights #62: ‘90s UK Alternative, Part I: The Rock Mix

Today’s my mom’s birthday, yay! She would not like this show. 

I wanted to take a break from the title-themed shows, and for whatever reason, UK ‘90s is the first thing that popped into my head. Maybe that’s because most of the shows are inherently UK ‘80s shows, and I wanted to share the wealth, as it were. I say that despite the fact that I’ve already played at least three of these songs in previous shows. Still, eight bands make their debuts here, so…progress?

Oh, and I also voice a thought that will be quite unpopular with nearly anyone who likes this show. Hot take ahoy! Who knows, maybe some of you will agree with me (it comes in the second talkie bit), but I’m guessing most of you won’t, and that’s OK.

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Popdose Song Premiere: ORQID, “Tenderness”

There is a long-running joke amongst Popdose staffers that, when we throw our first music festival, the master of ceremonies will (of course) be Michael McDonald, and the house band will be the System. If that seems to be a curious choice, bear in mind that there isn’t a writer among us who isn’t still dazzled by the band’s massive 1987 hit “Don’t Disturb This Groove.”


In the event that System members Mic Murphy and David Frank cannot work us into their schedules, though, we think we’ve found a more than worthy replacement.


ORQID is Tom Butcher, a Seattleite by way of Houston armed with a bevy of vintage analog synth gear and a deep reverence for both the groove and the emotional layer that many early synth-pop pioneers had in spades. (Case in point: the first four influences Butcher lists are Roxy Music, Brian Eno, David Bowie, and Chic. The System pops up a few bands later.) His new album Tenderness dabbles heavily in Eno-esque atmospherics (the final four songs, on a six-song album, are instrumentals), but on the title track, Butcher does his part to make sure the groove continues to remain undisturbed. But don’t take our word for it; here is Butcher explaining his love for the unsung duo. 


“I’ve always been a huge fan of David Frank’s keyboard and synthesizer work in the System.  The way he builds riffs and grooves is incredibly innovative and catchy, and then when Mic Murphy’s soul-drenched vocals come in you can’t really resist how infectious their songs are. I also love the electronic dance pop from the 1980s, and I’ve played The System’s albums Sweat and X-Periment in heavy rotation. With regard to my own work, I can trace a connection between ‘Tenderness’ and the System’s single ‘Don’t Disturb this Groove.’ Both songs have a laid-back tempo and an electronic groove foundation coupled with vocals that emanate from the soul.


“’Tenderness’ is about longing for meaningful connections in a difficult world. With ORQID being rooted in emotion, this record is all about channeling what I was feeling over the past year.  Yearning for tenderness, longing for a love that has unraveled, centering on personal rituals, commenting on humanity, and finally realizing that even civilizations rise from and fall into dust.”


Tenderness arrives November 15.



Popdose Video Premiere: Other Americans’ “Neon Sunrise”

As 2019, let alone this decade, heads into the final stretch, a bumper crop of epic new releases will sprint to the finish with hopes of winding up in your Spotify playlist or on your record shelf. Other Americans, the second self-titled EP from a band of the same name, lands October 1 as one of the strongest records of the year. The 5-track + 3 remix collection makes up in hooks, power, sweetness, and stardust for what it lacks in length.

While the band takes its EP naming strategy from Weezer, sonically they echo edgy femme fatale-fronted synth rock acts from the 80’s (Kim Wilde, Scandal, The Motels), the 90s (Garbage, Elastica, Sleeper, Republica) and the 2000s (Goldfrapp, The Ting Tings, early Charli XCX). Julie Berndsen (vox), Brandon Phillips (guitars, synths), Adam Phillips (drums), and Michelle Bacon (bass) hail from Kansas City and Lawrence and just might be the best retro forward band to emerge from flyover country since Omaha’s The Faint. Prior to Other Americans, the Phillips brothers (along with their brother Zachary and a rotating cast of bruisers) were in the ska/punk band, The Gadjits (purveyors of some epic albums back in the day on Rancid’s Hellcat Records). 

“Neon Sunrise” is a gorgeous video that gives the high concept, high production value videos of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Beyonce a run for their money. Popdose is proud to present the World Premiere here:

“After making the video for Other Americans’ ‘Make Me Afraid’, we jumped at the chance when they asked us to tackle ‘Neon Sunrise’,” said directors Todd Norris and Mitch Brian. “Rather than resorting to nostalgia or kitsch, we created a world of mirrored cityscapes that owes a bit to Blade Runner. Giant projections of the band tower over the lonely citizens of the streets below. Berndsen breaks the boundaries of her 2D projection screen to connect with our lonely heroine and becomes her neon sunrise.  In the end, it’s about how music can throw us a lifeline when we feel alone.” 

The delicious first single whets the appetite for bountiful surprises the EP delivers. “Our process definitely got more fun in writing this record – there was way less hemming and hawing about direction and more following the path of whatever felt good to play,” Brandon Phillips said in the EP release announcement. “I got to play sitar-style parts. I got to play slashy, angular Gang of Four/Wire type guitar bits. I got to play giant-ass Lady Gaga synths. Getting to do all those things on one record is so close to Paradise Syndrome for me that I’m worried I’ll sound like a dick talking about it.”

The EP’s three remixes come courtesy of Brandon’s Mensa Deathsquad EDM project. “Brandon took a different approach to each of the songs and made them truly into dance tracks,” Julie said. “This was something that should have happened on the last record,” Brandon added. “We talked about it but it never came true. I am eternally grateful for bandmates that can indulge me this way because I just love the way the remixes came out.”

Other Americans (EP 2) will be available on all major streaming services October 1. Connect with Other Americans (the band) on facebook and twitter. 

Hungry for more, check out ‘Make Me Afraid’ from the first Other Americans EP:

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Twenty

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Twenty

If you thought Radio City… 119 was a head-spinner, then this 120th installment is a feast!  Without further ado, among the topics Rob and Jon sink their teeth into: the ongoing saga of deBlasio’s ineptitude and his arrogance towards the press.  A recent CNN poll in Iowa didn’t have deBlasio placing anywhere.  The same poll shows Sanders at having only 9% of voters’ interest;
one of Ocasio-Cortez’ asshole staffers took shots at Sharice Davids (rep. from Kansas)…  that’s right – dig yourself deeper, you dumb fuck.  This is the same flunky who was wearing a shirt with a Nazi sympathizer on it; El Chapo sentenced to life in prison…  good luck with that one!; Feds end probe of The Trump Organization…  now what?; the Eric Garner thing rears its ugly head again – years after the payouts to the family.  The Justice Department has found the officer in question “not guilty” and once again, Al Sharpton is preaching violence PLUS:  a Universal update, a true “feel good story” plus “In Our Heads” and oodles more…

You’d better be comfortable because this one is going to have you going in ebbs and flows.  But be assured, you’re going to be very glad you listened in to this latest episode of Radio City…


Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Twenty

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode One Hundred Twenty-One

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Twenty One

The world has become murky and not everything is seen in a clear or rational light – Rob and Jon are here to try and shed some light on the realities and joys of the current state of affairs.  Listen in as they delve in with subjects such as CNN’s disingenuous manner of reportage; the wave of men who fraudulently play the “sensitive guy” role; Britain ushers in their version of Donald Trump to 10 Downing Street; a big faux-pas by Forever 21 stores (!); the repeat anti-climax of “it’s Mueller time!” with his non-damning testimony; the New York Mets’ post-All Star game surge; the allowance for police to be doused with water in New York City and not charged with assault; Rob’s assessment of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”, “In Our Heads” and (believe us) EVEN MORE!

This is one of those “get yourself comfortably settled in” episodes that will have you laughing, angry and, most importantly, thinking afterwards.  So prepare for a good evening’s listening!

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode One Hundred Twenty One

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.