I think it must be the musical theatre child inside of me but I don’t think there is anything better than taking part in an event with an overarching theme! Whether it’s hosting or attending an event, I love the excitement of having themed decor, games, music and most importantly any form of fancy dress. This is why when I and my Aunty wanted to watch the DVD of Les Miserable for the first time a couple of years ago, we knew it had to be more than just sitting down on the sofa to watch this classic musical. We decided that we were going to have a French-inspired night complete with baguettes, and profiteroles to enjoy while enjoying the movie. I had made the journey to my Aunty’s home, we had all the food laid out, had positioned our baret perfectly and everything was ready …. until we discovered that someone had borrowed the only copy of the DVD we had and so our plans had to quickly change! We had made the metaphorical journey all the way to France and were big musical theatre fans so it needed to include some form of singing. The musical fever dream that is known as the 2001 Moulin rouge movie starring Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman and Kylie Minogue! The movie is a chaotic journey to the cabaret club of the same name in Paris where we navigate a complicated love triangle. This may sound like the normal plot of a show but the frenzied rate in which the performer burst into wonderful theatrical spectacles with people flying across the frame is unlike anything I have ever seen before! The soundtrack is comprised of some of the iconic pop songs in history including Elton John, Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, the police and others each with little tweaks to fit the overall narrative which makes these familiar songs new and refreshing! If you could already tell I fell in love with the movie and actually decided to dress up as a “can-can “ dancer and also as one of the lead characters for a fancy dress party!
With all this in mind, when I discovered that a stage adaptation of one of my favourite movies was making its way to the west end I know it was a show I need to experience … and I finally did! The first thing to note about this specific production is that from the moment you step foot into the auditorium you are instantly transported into the iconic cabaret club. The entire theatre is shrouded in a rather sensual red light with a massive windmill and elephant (both of which are motifs from the original movie) overlooking the audience. Rather than the traditional structure of the show starting when the curtain raises, the audience are instantly greeted with the staging of the club with dancer and punters of the club slowly and randomly appearing as time progresses. Having been in nightclubs as (or sometimes just before) they have opened this sort of gradual build-up is exactly what this experience is like and helps keep the audience in the chaotic world of the moulin rogue! One of the things that this show has done so perfectly is the use of staging with every location being exactly what it needed to be in terms of the narrative but we’re also always a spectacle to look at! After being unofficially introduced to some of the minor and silent characters in the club, we meet the moulin rogue favourites through the performance of the iconic Lady Marmalade. This number was so wonderfully salutary and sensual with the four dancers strutting across the stage will cast the most gorgeous back-lit shadows as they did so. This clever use of staging and lightning was one of the most cleaning uses of this effect that I have ever seen and so the lightning designers should be applauded for a concept that not only looked incredible but also added to the overall mood of the number! This number quickly transitioned into the high-energy and vibrant “because we can can can” which is the most traditional celebration of the can-can dance style with massive skirts, impressive high kicks and the right amount of comedic moments. These two contrasting numbers are probably two of the most recognisable songs from the movie and so pairing them together is a great way to initial reintroduce people to the moulin rogue!
The narrative is spearheaded by the love-struck composer Christin (played in this production by the wonderfully talented Adam Gillian) who forms a trio of dreamers who plan to stage the world’s biggest product ever conceived! The show started with Adam giving a very Disney Prince-inspired performance of naive optimism and exaggerated bohemian ideals of Christin so when he becomes overwhelmed with anger towards the end of the story we really see a sharp contrast! Adam is able to perform both sides of the character with ease and helps clearly demonstrate the character’s overall arc. His performance of the song “crazy rolling” was a masterclass in acting through song with every emotion being perfectly demonstrated throughout which came at a time when the character starts to shift from the Disney Prince to a tormented soul. It is also very clear that Adam is a very talented vocalist as his performance of “come what may” was incredibly moving and was perfect to listen to! Alongside Christin is his love interest for the majority of the movie is Satine (played in this production by the amazing Tanisha Spring) who was just pure beauty of the stage. The awe-aspiring moment that she was lowered gracefully from the ceiling of a massive swing while dressed as a gorgeously sparkling diamond was incredible to watch and in all honesty, is an entrance I want to make whenever I enter a room going forward! The preceding medley titled “The sparkling diamond” comprised of songs such as “diamonds are a girl’s best friend” and “material girl” by Madonna and a sprinkling of “single ladies” by Beyonce was wonderfully performed with not only the vocals being a treat for the ears but also the visual elements were absolutely stunning! However, just like in the movie, my favourite character would have to be Harold Zidler (played by the brilliant Clive Carter) who is the eccentric owner of the famous nightclub. This character serves as an almost master of ceremonies but about halfway through becomes extremely desperate to keep open his beloved venue that leads him to deliver some questionable instructions. This character is so wonderfully over-the-top that you can’t help but be drawn into the spectacle of the show itself. If I was to have any qualm with this production it would have to be with the function of the duke within this show. In this original movie, this role is played by Richard Roxburgh who is known for having a very unique and distinctive appearance within this movie so when he uses his wealth to seduce Satine this is more grotesque and jarring to the audience. In the musical adaptation, this role was played by Craig Ryder who is a traditionally attractive male which weakens the impact of his manipulation in my opinion. My biggest issue with this character was that the musical does not contain possibly my favourite number in the movie “Like a Virgin” as this is one of the most interesting numbers from the movie!
Despite all this, Moulin Rogue is absolutely a show of two acts with the second half being a lot more emotionally driven and powerful. The beginning of the show is crammed full of fabulous and vibrant dancers performing high-energy numbers but the latter half focuses on the relationship between Satine and Christian falling apart. If you have not seen this story before then you are in for a surprise but I will say that Moulin Rogue definitely does not have a happy ending. I have a friend who used to watch the movie with her grandparents as a child but as soon as things started to fall apart they would end the film and so she would only ever seen three-quarters of the movie. I wish there was some way that I could have done this for the musical as I spent the closing moments of the show in floods of tears. The company on this production did everything they could to re-energise the audience after the heartbreaking scenes with a wonderful mega-mix (which is always something I enjoy as everyone is on their feet) but it was very difficult to fully get involved with tears flooding down my face!
Overall, Moulin Rogue the musical is a spectacularly sexy explosion of fabulousness with one of the most emotional climaxes I have ever experienced. The show pays homage to the iconic movie with some slight alterations (most notable the eradication of like a Virgin) so fans of the movie will also enjoy the iconic moments, songs and staging! I would rate this production 5 out of 5 stars!