‘Moulin Rouge!’ From Script to Stage

BY Robbie Armstrong, October 28, 2019

Since the film release of Moulin Rouge, Baz Luhrman’s dramatic musical has continued to capture the hearts of bohemians, artists, and audiences around the world. The 2001 film garnered critical acclaim, gaining the attention of Broadway producers. As the film transitioned to the stage, the script, adapted by playwright John Logan, continued to evolve. From workshops, to developmental labs, to the Boston premiere and finally to Broadway, Moulin Rouge!, directed by Alex Timbers, underwent numerous rewrites in order to become the dazzling spectacle that shines at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre today. 


Several Columbia students, alumni, and faculty were hired for the Broadway musical. They all worked behind the scenes to craft the current script that is performed eight times a week. Alumna Lynn Spector ’15 served as the production’s Script Supervisor and worked closely with Logan. Spector had previously worked with Timbers as a Script Supervisor on Beetlejuice the Broadway musical. As Logan made edits to the script, Spector updated the Master script and distributed updates to cast and crew. Spector’s script edits went beyond simple text input. They required additional formatting so the pages were legible to the company while closely following the artistic intent of the playwright. 


Spector regularly distributed script updates to the Stage Management team, where I, a stage management intern with the show and a current student, updated the blocking script. The blocking script is a tool used to teach and direct understudies and new performers in the ongoing production. It contains directional and dramaturgical notes so performers know where they should be on stage and understand parameters surrounding their characters. It allows stage managers to rehearse new cast members while maintaining the artistic vision across many, many productions. The show’s Production Stage Manager, Professor Michael Passaro, was present in all scene rehearsals with Timbers. These rehearsals furnished blocking notes, which Passaro wrote into the blocking script. I then digitized these hand written notes, keeping the blocking script fresh and clean. 


Once Moulin Rouge! began preview performances, Stage Management intern and current student Hadley Armstrong began tracking the cast movements with props. Armstrong watched a filmed version of the show and took notes of each prop that an actor was carrying, where they moved it, if they set it down. She added these notes to the blocking script, to provide further clarity of the exact blocking for each cast member, an elaborate task of tracking and tallying crucial in maintaining Logan’s vision. 

Moulin Rouge! opened on Broadway to rave reviews with a healthy stream of ticket sales. The master script and blocking script continue to be essential tools to production.