The stage version of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! will have its world premiere at a newly renovated Emerson Colonial Theatre next summer, reestablishing Boston’s role as a pre-Broadway destination for world-class theater.
The engagement, slated to begin in June 2018, is the result of Emerson’s partnership with London-based Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), the world’s number one live theater company. As part of the agreement, announced in January 2017, ATG is renovating the Colonial and will provide programming under a 40-year lease.
“I am proud of the partnership that Emerson and ATG established this year, because it ensures the long-term viability of this beautiful, historic theater as a venue for the performing arts to not only survive, but thrive,” President Lee Pelton said at a press conference held Wednesday, November 1, at the Colonial.
“Through… remarkable theatrical productions, the Colonial has the capacity to inspire, embrace, and to celebrate our city’s emerging diversity,” he said.
The film version of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! premiered at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. It tells the story of a young writer (Ewan MacGregor) who falls in love with a cabaret performer (Nicole Kidman) in 19th-century Paris, using popular music of the 20th century.
At the announcement of the premiere at the Emerson Colonial Theater on Wednesday, Award-winning playwright and screenwriter John Logan, who is adapting Moulin Rouge! for the stage, said it was “very emotional” to walk into a theater where so many luminaries of the past century staged shows: George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim.
“The people who made 20th-century theater made it in this theater, so I’m delighted and proud that we’re going to get to join that roster of great ghosts,” Logan said.
At one time, Boston’s theater district was where shows had their pre-Broadway debuts. The Colonial stage – the oldest continuously operated theater in America — premiered seminal musicals such as Anything Goes, Oklahoma!, Annie Get Your Gun, Born Yesterday, A Little Night Music, Grand Hotel, and La Cage aux Folles, among others.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who also joined with Emerson and ATG to announce the debut production, highlighted one show that made its debut at the Colonial in 1935: Porgy and Bess.
“It shined a light on important social issues that we are still addressing today, like poverty, substance abuse, and racism,” Walsh said. “And today, we’ll continue to use this theater as a vehicle for discussing the most pressing issues of our time. It’s just one of the many ways that arts and culture has enriched our lives[.]”
Moulin Rouge! will be the first show to take the stage at the Emerson Colonial Theatre since fall 2015, when Book of Mormon closed. Before that happens, ATG will complete a multimillion dollar renovation of the theater, making much-needed upgrades while preserving many of the original 1900 details. The renovation is being designed by Elkus Manfredi Architects, who previously designed the Paramount Center, 2 Boylston Place, and the ongoing Little Building project.
Stephen Lewin, Ambassador Theatre Group’s CEO for North America, said when looking for buildings to restore, ATG actively seeks out venues with “rich histories…incredible architectural detail…great sightlines, acoustics and ideal locations.
“By these or any other yardsticks, the Emerson Colonial Theatre is without peers,” Lewin said.
Pelton said the restoration of the Colonial is part of Emerson’s larger mission to “animate the streetscape” along the Boylston Street corridor and “strengthen the College’s sense of place” within the city of Boston.
“We envision this corridor as a destination… and the reopening of the Colonial, this majestic theater, is part of our long-term vision to enhance and enliven our neighborhood,” Pelton said.