Moulin Rouge – The Musical

Book by John Logan. Presented by Carmen Pavlovic, Gerry & Val Ryan and Global Creatures. Capitol Theatre. From June 2022

Reviewed : June 3, 2022*

Photo : Michelle Grace Hunder

La Féerie, a French title that translates as “fairy play”, was a French theatrical genre known for “fantasy plots and spectacular visuals,” lavish scenery and technical stage effects. Moulin Rouge – the Musical slips almost seamlessly into a modern interpretation of that genre.

It is everything you’d expect La Féerie to be! A fantasy plot complete with hero, heroine, villain and cheeky storyteller. A hint of ‘revolution’ in the “Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love” cry of the Bohemians. Multiple elaborate sets that fly up and down or slide in and out. Hundreds of lights and lighting effects. It’s raunchy, fast, colourful, sparkly. There’s singing, dancing, leaps, high kicks and acrobatics. And lots more!

Photo : Michelle Grace Hunder

Just like the movie – only different … because it’s live! It’s there ‘in your face’, the energy firing from every high note, every leap, every quip, every smirk. It starts with Zidler’s opening wink and doesn’t stop until the last, frenzied notes of the finale. Sure, there are the touching love scenes and the moving love songs, but they don’t last for too long, because this Moulin Rouge is live, and  the “show” is the reality.

Le Moulin Rouge, the Parisian cabaret named after the red windmill that shines on its roof, was opened in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller, who wanted it to become  a “universal symbol of femininity and the art of dance”. The artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalised it in his many sketches and paintings. Though it burnt down in 1915, it was re-established and remains today as one of the places to go in Paris.

Baz Luhrmann based his move on some of the stories of the Moulin Rouge, even re-incarnating Charles Zidler as Harold Zidler, the cabaret host. Moulin Rouge – the Musical honours the movie, though there are a few differences. Some of the original songs have gone but there are70 songs, from 160 songwriters and 30 publishers. Satine is a more an empowered ‘leading lady’ than a poor prostitute. The Duke is stronger, more involved. And Nini is Satine’s friend rather than the Duke’s spy.

Photo : Michelle Grace Hunder

Simon Burke shines as Zidler. He’s suitably cheeky, wickedly suggestive. He infuses the role with lively energy and chutzpah, yet tempers it with his fear for the future of the company and concern for Satine. Burke has made his mark on stage and screen, in dramas and in musical theatre, both here and overseas. In Zidler he shows just why he is a real Australian theatre treasure.

Burke leads a cast of strong performers.

Alinta Chidzey is a stunning but introspective Satine, carrying the pressures of saving the company, her new love and her failing health. Chidzey balances all of this as well as singing superbly as the company ‘diamond’.

Des Flanagan plays Christian, the young American songwriter finding his way in the world. He shows the youthful trust and naivety of the character … and sings it joyfully.

The Duke is played by Andrew Cook, who shows the different dimensions of the character –  chauvinist, benefactor and arrogant aristocrat.

The bohemian artistes of the Left Bank bring both humour and politics to the story.

Photo : Michelle Grace Hunder

Tim Omaji is suitably proud and prudent as Toulouse-Lautrec, satirist and champion of the people. Omaji has a powerful stage presence, which he uses to give verisimilitude to this role.

As does Ryan Gonzalez, who plays his friend and coproducer, Santiago. Gonzalez is a triple threat performer whose whose experience in cabaret, film and theatre bring convincing strength – and a lot of humour – to this role.

The ‘Lady M’s’, whose sassy boldness and feisty dancing typify just what people expect of the Moulin Rouge, are played brilliantly by Samantha Dodemaide (Nini), Olivia Vásquez (Arabia), Ruva Ngwenya (La Chocolat) and Christopher J Scalzo (Babydoll). With them, another twenty singers and dancers bring a wealth of talent and tireless, spirited energy and zest to the production.

Moulin Rouge – the Musical has invaded the Capitol Theatre. Its iconic red windmill dominates one side of the proscenium arch, the huge blue elephant ‘dressing room’ the other. Light shine red and bright, heart shapes dominate and music and dance reign, bringing a little bit of ‘hot’ Paris to wintery Sydney.

First published in Stage Whispers magazine.

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