Think back to the first time you heard Lady Gaga performing “Bad Romance.” Did you know you were listening to an instantly iconic pop hit? Certain songs that are legendary from their inception, having stood the test of time, and remaining relevant for years to come.
When Moulin Rouge! The Musical Music Supervisor and Co-Orchestrator Justin Levine wanted to include some of the newer “contemporary classics” in the musical, “Bad Romance” was one of the most obvious choices.
“It’s a song that was written several years ago now, but it still carries a lot of weight in the pop world,” he says. “In our sort of pop canon, it still holds a high position.”
Of course, that didn’t mean that the song could be inserted anywhere — all of the music-placement choices were outlined in detail by book writer John Logan, director Alex Timbers, and Levine. The use of “Bad Romance” as the opening song of Act II came out of a discussion over what Moulin Rouge! The Musical’s show-within-a-show should look like. As in the film, the musical that Satine is starring in mirrors the love triangle that she herself is trapped in, caught between Christian, her true love, and the Duke, her wealthy but controlling benefactor.
Within that context, “Bad Romance” revealed itself to be the perfect choice.
“There’s a darkness, which I really love, so that was a song that I’d always thought had an interesting place in this conceit for our show,” Levine explains. “It seemed to me that the way to open Act II would be to have a big number from this show-within-a-show that really kind of lays out everything that we’re about to experience for the rest of the act, which is this love triangle, and which is the sort of torture and ecstasy of love — the madness of love.”
To reinforce this emotional trauma, Levine and his collaborators were looking for what he calls “anti-love songs” to create a mad love medley; thus, Gaga’s anthem for the heart run amok is mixed with other recognizable hits of equivalent woe, like Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army,” Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.” “These were all songs that kind of all deal with love not just in a romanticized way,” he says, “but in the way that it makes someone crazy.”
As with all of the medleys in the show, Levine began with lyrics that both fit the plot and the themes Moulin Rouge! The Musical is trying to convey. He then worked to layer the songs over each other, to form something cohesive. “Once I felt like lyrically we were saying what we needed to say,” he adds, “the rest of it was like a musical puzzle that I had to solve.”
And so, a breathtaking Act II opener is a moment that audiences can’t stop talking about.