Review by Grace Swadling
This is a story about love.
Nothing could be more true about this production of Moulin Rouge! The Musical.
Not only is it an epic love story at its core but it’s also a celebration of love between friends, the love of your art, queer love, the love of your community, and on a broader scale, the love for Australian productions and their cast and crews.
Indeed, Moulin Rouge! The Musical has been a labor of love that all started with a conversation over lunch between producers Carmen Pavlovic, Gerry Ryan and creator Baz Lurhman. That conversation spanned a 14 year journey from conception to its triumphant world premier on a Broadway stage, and the production has weathered pandemic-induced shut downs, delays and financial uncertainty to become a global success. It has finally made its way to Brisbane after successful stints in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, and to say that the energy in the room on opening night was electric is an understatement - complete with an appearance from Lurhman himself!
The show starts from the moment the audience enters, with mysterious, pulsating music and shadowy, seductive figures roaming about the stage. The attention to detail is incredible; the production team has transformed QPAC’S Lyric Theatre into the smokey, red velvet underground of Paris circa 1920, complete with chandeliers, a replica of Satine’s elephant dressing room and a slowly whirling windmill.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a 2.5 hour masterclass in theatricality and the cast and crew have stepped up to deliver a spectacle for the ages. Name anything you could ever want in a fabulous production, anything at all, and I guarantee you it's been crammed into this show. You want beautiful ladies sword-swallowing, you got it! You want a high-energy, can-can number about five minutes in, you got it! How about acrobatic leaps and silk performers defying the laws of gravity? Not to mention an Eiffel Tower that twirls whilst the two leads belt romantic power ballads, moving sets, quick costume changes right before the audience’s eyes, pyrotechnics, and last but not least several confetti guns that round out the encore in what can only be described as a jaw-dropping finale.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is a must-see for the spectacle alone but this combined with
costume designer Catherine Zuber’s extravagant outfits and Derek Mclane’s incredible set design means that the talented cast have an extraordinary world in which to elevate with their performances - and boy do they perform.
Alinta Chidzey shines as Satine in a dizzying amount of costume changes, each one more beautiful than the next but is almost outshone by Des Flanagan’s beautiful vocals as he charms audiences as the love-struck Christian.
The club’s famed entertainers, known as the ‘Lady Ms’ (Samantha Dodemaide, Olivia Vásquez, Chaska Halliday and Christopher J Scalzo) are powerhouses each in their own right and from the moment they began the iconic click of 'Lady Marmalade' they captured the audience with their stunning vocals and stage presence.
Rounding out the bohemians was Jarrod Draper’s Toulouse-Lautrec, whose emotional rendition of 'There Was A Boy' was genuinely moving, and Ryan Gonzalez’s outrageously wonderful Santiago, the best tango dancer (and gigolo) in all of Paris. It was a delight to watch Gonzalez and Dodemaide’s Nini go toe-to-toe, oozing sexual tension in every scene; a tension somewhat lacking between the two romantic leads at times.
However it was Simon Burke’s wonderfully mischievous and flamboyant nightclub owner Harold Ziegler who stole the show; teasing the audience, providing glorious comedic moments yet also establishing an emotionally-charged and tender relationship between Ziedler and Satine.
Focus on developing Satine’s character background and added plot stakes have fleshed out the story but at times clunky dialogue takes away from this. Indeed more character development would have gone a long way for the production but at the end of the day, what it lacks in depth it more than makes up for in passion and joy and you can tell that performers and audiences alike are reveling in the fun of it all.
Purists of the film might also find the additional songs a little jarring, particularly when the original score is so iconic. In fact, at times the frequent addition of so many pop songs takes one out of the production, with the audience prone to laughing in moments of heightened drama for the characters - did we need to hear ‘Firework’ by Katy Perry as a power ballad…maybe not?
But there is a uniquely fun element of Moulin Rouge! The Musical in recognising the songs and being able to sing along - and most of the new musical numbers are a welcome addition, taking Lurhman’s original revolutionary collision of time periods and injecting more modern pop and rock tunes. Highlights include James Bryers devilishly charming yet menacing Duke’s introduction in ‘Sympathy for the Duke’ and the revitalized ‘El Tango De Roxanne’ which is hauntingly beautiful. However it is the show-stopping ‘Backstage Romance” number that truly thrills; the phrase "blood, sweat and tears" has never seemed truer than for this incredible ensemble who hold the show together with impressive displays of athleticism in Sonya Tayeh’s complex and exciting choreography.
There are only very limited tickets left for the Brisbane season – which will run from 16 May through to 27 July 2023, so if you are looking to experience the very best that theatre has to offer, come to the Lyric Theatre and prepare to be wowed because Moulin Rouge! The Musical is truly spectacular, spectacular.