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Moulin Rouge! The Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. Satine (Alinta Chidzey) and Christian (Des Flanagan) embracing in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
    Photograph: Michelle Grace HunderSatine (Alinta Chidzey) and Christian (Des Flanagan) embracing in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
  2. Moulin Rouge! The Musical
    Photograph: Michelle Grace Hunder
  3. Alinta Chidzey (Satine) and Des Flanagan (Christian) in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
    Photograph: Michelle Grace HunderAlinta Chidzey (Satine) and Des Flanagan (Christian) in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
  4. Moulin Rouge! The Musical
    Photograph: Michelle Grace HunderRyan Gonzalez (Santiago) and Samantha Dodemaide (Nini)

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Can can can they capture the Absinthe fairy magic as the Luhrmann-inspired jukebox musical returns to Melbourne?

When the multiple Tony Award-winning Moulin Rouge! The Musical, adapted from the 2001 jukebox extravaganza film by Australian director Baz Luhrmann, first can-can-canned its way into Melbourne, we had barely staggered out of lockdown. 

Walking into the already-majestic Regent Theatre ablaze with the red light district glow of thousands of hand-painted bulbs, a dozen glittering chandeliers and spanned by great arched hearts felt like actual Absinthe fairy magic, drunkenly transporting us half the world away and back in time to the infamous Parisian club’s heyday. 

Returning to the Regent Theatre for this encore run, directed by Jennifer Sarah Dean locally from a book by John Logan, I wondered if the wow factor would still inspire awe. It sure does. Derek McLane’s dazzling scenic design, realised here by Isabel Hudson and illuminated by Gavin Swift following Justin Townsend’s creation, literally spills off stage and through the fourth wall, past a towering blue elephant and the club’s world-famous windmill commanding royal boxes on either side. Before the lights even go down, limbering dancers weave through the audience.

Returning stars Alinta Chidzey and Des Flanagan impress all the more now they’ve lived so long in the roles of rags to riches courtesan Satine, the fake diamond of this financially struggling club, and her penniless, naïve would-be suitor Christian. As depicted by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor in the movie, while the former handled the movie’s big musical numbers with remarkable grace, sadly, McGregor’s wince-inducing caterwauling murdered their duets.

That’s not a problem here, with both Chidzey and Flanagan excelling vocally, illuminating the show with their kilowatt chemistry as they hold the 70-plus tunes stitched into this jam-packed jukebox musical while skipping nimbly through Sony Tayeh’s demanding choreography, nailed locally by Travis Khan, in Janet Hine’s magnificent costumes. 

Neat additions to Justin Levine’s intricately stitched orchestration, commanded by Australian musical director Matthew Carey, include the spot-on pairing of Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)’ with Lorde’s ‘Royals’, seamlessly folded into Satine’s ‘Material Girl’/‘Diamonds are Forever’ introductory number. First-act closer Elephant Love Medley was already a sparkling highlight of Luhrmann’s movie.

Deploying Elton John’s ‘Your Song’, Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’, turbo-charged by Whitney Houston, and David Bowie’s anthemic ‘Heroes’ for the push-pull battle between Christian, drunk on the power of love, and the cynical Satine dunking on his “silly love songs” (care of Wings), though brought together “just for one day”. 

How do you improve on that? By subtly tweaking the balance of a show-stopping number unfairly weighted towards McGregor. Tina Turner’s seminal ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ amps up her resistance – because “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” When Christian borrows A-Ha’s ‘Take On Me’, pleading with her to reconsider, Satine plays his own game, pushing back, “You’ll be gone in a day or two.” Adding ‘Torn’, popularised by Natalie Imbruglia, signals her internal wavering.

Later, Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ ably swings us into a second-act tragedy. Satine’s ailing health takes centre stage even as she’s compelled to secure her and the club’s future by settling for the sneering Duke (impressive cast addition James Bryers) who simply wants to own her. Chidzey captures our broken hearts as Satine desperately embarks on a hazardous yet very French affair with Christian, all the while attempting to set boundaries around his infatuation. 

A seam of darkness runs through this crowd-pleasing show designed to bring unbridled joy to the masses via maximal musical nostalgia. A returning Simon Burke is both wonderfully camp-fantastic and world-weary as struggling club impresario Harold Zidler, confirmed as a gay man who can be blackmailed as such. Christopher J Scalzo’s gender non-conforming Babydoll – one of Satine’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ performing soul sisters rounded out by the stellar Samantha Dodemaide, Kahlia Davis and Chaska Halliday – similarly panics at the harsh reality facing queer people if the shelter offered by the Moulin Rouge shuttered.

There isn’t a weak link in the ensemble, with new cast member Bert LaBonté captivating as the Dukes-sparring Toulouse-Lautrec, bohemian champion of “truth, beauty, freedom, love.” Ryan Gonzalez brings sassy comic relief as gigolo Santiago, even if his ‘Bad Romance’ with Dodemaide’s Nini is undercooked. It’s a shame, but even over two hours, there’s only so much you can fit in. Intriguingly, while the stage show crams in much more music than the movie, it still feels somehow less hectic, with a streamlined focus on Satine’s determination to light up for one final opening night, ‘Come What May’.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical may not re-invent the form, but to borrow a line from Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’, also added to the mix, it owns the night.

Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell


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