Maëlyss Barranco

Norwegian values at the heart of the beloved musical The Moulin Rouge

Last August, the Norwegian production company Taran AS has embarked on the task of adapting the renowned love story, set in the Paris of the Belle Époque, into a musical. To cope with the expensive costs of copyright, the Norwegian production company has joined forces with two other companies: one Danish, the other Swedish. The three of them created a show that remains faithful to the film directed by Baz Luhrmann in 2001. However, the musical distinguished itself by its « non-replica production » status. Which means that the script and musical compositions remain unchanged, but the exact reproduction of the scenography and some emblematic movements are strictly prohibited.

During an interview, the stage manager Tone Lovisa Djønne and the project coordinator Rebekka Folkvord Helland of the Norwegian production company shared how these restrictions have turned into a unique opportunity for Norwegians to leave their artistic imprint influenced by their own culture.

The Social Guidebook to Norway, authored by Julien S. Tourelle, provides an explanation of Norwegian cultural norms regarding dating. The author highlights a contrast with other societies and explains that in Norway sexual relations are long favored before emotional intimacy develops. It even usually takes years for a couple to claim themselves as such. Asked how Norwegians might perceive this more traditional love story in the musical, both of them responded: « It’s strange, now that I think about it, when the two protagonists meet for the first time on stage the attention is focused on sexual tension ». To this, they add uncertainty about whether this choice of the artistic director is conscious, suggesting that these norms are so ingrained in their culture that it must have instinctively influence how he interpreted the love story.

When I share with them the findings of the University of Berkeley report (Othering and Belonging Institute, 2022) that ranks Norway among the most inclusive countries, it leaves them with no surprise: « Remember the posters all over Oslo when another theatre promoted the musical Frozen with a black actress starring as Elsa. Here we value diversity and like to put it in the spotlight ».

Musicals are not yet an integral part of popular culture in Nordic countries. Therefore, the influence that press articles can have is not to be underestimated. Both criticize the patronizing attitude of certain journalists who elevate theater to a more noble form of art, implying that it inherently leads to profound intellectual reflection. They contend that comparing these two genres is pointless, stressing that musicals aim to provide an experience that allows spectators to feel emotions and escape from their daily life for a few hours.

As musicals have not been in the Nordic landscape for a long time, it is necessary to accustom the Norwegian public. Sure, Norwegians are known to be extremely reserved but they can cry, laugh and applaud loudly too. This musical especially opens with one of the main characters breaking the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, to encourage them to let themselves be carried away.

What truly stands out of the interview is the kindness and love shared among the members who breathe life into this show. The interview took place in a hallway, just hours before a performance. It was marked by numerous interruptions as members approached to exchange hugs, sweet words, and smiles with the two interviewees.

This camaraderie can be attributed to the unique dynamics of Norway's modest production companies, given the country's population of less than 5.5 million. This smaller scale fosters a sense of closeness and commitment within the « family » of 45 members, each entrusted with various responsibilities. Together, they create a genuine symphony of passion, dedicating their love for their craft to the success of the show.

Maëlyss Barranco