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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

Moulin Rouge! The Musical to bring the magic of Paris to Melbourne

We spoke to four cast members about bringing the tragically romantic film to the stage

Written by
Sophia Dickinson
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Has the last year or so got you longing for a trip to Paris? Luckily for Melbourne, Paris is coming to us in the form of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, opening at the Regent Theatre on November 12. Based on the 2001 Baz Lurhmann film of the same name, the live musical version takes an even deeper dive into the bohemian lives of the performers and punters at the famous Parisian dance hall. Among those punters is the naïve and romantic Christian, who immediately falls in love with Satine, the beautiful but ultimately tragic lead courtesan.

Like the movie, Moulin Rouge! The Musical follows Satine and Christian’s brief but passionate love story, which is influenced by great romantic tragedies including Romeo and Juliet, Orpheus and Eurydice, La Traviata and La Bohème. Just as Satine and Christian’s love is facing ultimate doom, so is the Moulin Rouge.

For the debut Australian production, Alinta Chidzey tackles the role of Satine, played by Nicole Kidman in the film. Musical theatre fans might have already seen Chidzey play Velma Kelly alongside Natalie Bassingthwaighte in Chicago, Anita in West Side Story or singing the national anthem at the 2020 Australian Open and the 2019 State of Origin. “I’m honoured to play such an iconic role that’s part of Australian history,” says Chidzey. “Satine has so many layers; she’s witty and strong, but also vulnerable in the sense of falling in love for the first time.”

The Aussie musical theatre superstar describes this role as equal parts exciting and challenging. “Once I [Satine] enter the show, I barely leave the stage except for my 16 costume changes. It’s theatrical, it’s a spectacular and it’s extravagant!”

If I haven’t left my heart on the stage at the end of the show, I haven’t done my job

“Satine struggles with accepting Christian as her first true love due to the responsibility of keeping him safe, saving the Moulin Rouge and facing her own mortality. If I haven’t left my heart on the stage at the end of the show, I haven’t done my job. It’s truly heart-breaking,” says Chidzey.

“But there’s also so much humour in the piece with the character of Christian, the MC Harold Zidler (played by Simon Burke AO); there’s a lot of colour in it. It’s such an exciting journey for the performers and the audience.”

The role of Christian, portrayed by Ewan McGregor in the film, has fallen to Des Flanagan. Like his character, Flanagan is newer to the industry than his cast mates, having graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts five years ago.

“It’s such a great production and it’s a welcome back to Melbourne and to the theatre. It’s our story, with Baz creating it originally in Australia.”

Hopes are high for the young performer, with Flanagan already being hailed as the next Hugh Jackman – an assessment he hopes to live up to. “Hugh is a quality person on and off the stage and screen. He’s humble, generous, compassionate and empathetic. That’s who I aspire to be.”

Flanagan also has a fresh take on the role of Christian. “Every actor wants to do their own thing. The character has to be different from how Ewan McGregor played it because the story arc is different but similar in some ways too.”

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

Beyond the two leads, Moulin Rouge! The Musical re-writes some characters from the film and introduces new ones. The four “Lady Ms” will still sing the classic ‘Lady Marmalade’ but expect the scintillating quartet to be more inclusive and representative. In the film, four characters similar to the Lady Ms were present – with Caroline O’Connor as Nini Legs in the Air, Christine Anu as Arabia, Natalie Mendoza as China Doll and Lara Mulcahy as Môme Fromage – but their roles less prominent than what you can expect from the stage musical.

“The Lady Ms bridge the element of the show within a show, within a show. The musical takes place as if you’re actually at the Moulin Rouge – like you’re in the actual theatre where they’re performing their nightly spectacle. The Lady Ms cross that trajectory the most,” explains Christopher Scalzo, who will play the new character Babydoll, a drag queen who makes the Moulin Rouge his home. “As part of an effort to diversify the stage adaptation, Babydoll is an innocent young man who’s enamoured and inspired by the beauty, illusion and extravaganza of the Moulin Rouge and finds both an identity and a vital safety within that community,” Scalzo explains.

“The four Lady Ms are distinctly different and individual characters in their essence, appearance and in what the Moulin Rouge means to them, how important it is for them to have a job there and a place to call home.”

The four Lady Ms silhouetted against a curtain in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Photograph: Michelle Grace HunderThe four Lady Ms silhouetted against a curtain in Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Ruva Ngwenya plays La Chocolat, another of the four, reimagined Lady Ms. For Ngwenya, the role is another feather in an impressive resumé that includes The Lion King, Beautiful: The Carole King Story and the role of Winnie Mandela in Madiba the Musical, which told the story of Nelson Mandela’s impact on South Africa. “This time around [in the musical], you get amazing versions of those themes of truth, beauty, freedom and love in a diverse platter,” Ngwenya says. “It’s representation – drag, curvy black women, athletic women, ambiguous Arabia, lots of different versions of what it means to be a powerful woman, sexy and feminine. There’s something for everyone.”

This time around [in the musical], you get amazing versions of those themes of truth, beauty, freedom and love in a diverse platter

Scalzo and Ngwenya are joined by Samantha Dodemaide as Nini and Olivia Vasquez as Arabia to round out the Lady Ms quartet.

The full cast of 34 was painstakingly selected from almost 2,000 applicants, with the resulting ensemble showcasing some of the best musical theatre talent Australia has to offer – the proof is in their diversity. “Diversity isn’t just about being fair, it’s actually beneficial for everyone. When everyone participates, no matter their race or ability, innovation builds. We become more competitive and create better work,” says Ngwenya, who is of Zimbabwean descent. 

Nini (Samantha Dodemaide) and cast performing in Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Photograph: Michelle Grace HunderNini (Samantha Dodemaide) and cast performing in Moulin Rouge! The Musical

She further explains, “There is so much untapped talent that needs to be nurtured; kids in the African diaspora are not privileged and supported in terms of access to dance or drama classes. Their parents might not even consider performing arts as an area of study for their children.” Chidzey adds, “I’m half Chinese Singaporean, I know that I have given inspiration to younger performers because I represent that community on stage; it gives them the belief that it’s possible and people are aware of Australia’s diversity reflected on stage.”

Scalzo’s character of Babydoll adds gender diversity to the show, as well as the actor’s own wealth of professional experience. “I’ve been so lucky to get to work across almost every opportunity that a performing artist could hope for. I’ve done commercial and musical theatre, swung, ensemble, principal cover, classical works, Opera Australia’s Evita, Wicked, the rock musical American Idiot”.

The entire cast of Moulin Rouge! The Musical is bursting to bring the show to life and get back to doing what they love.

“I hope people do go out and support live theatre, especially after lockdown because we [the performing arts industry] have suffered. Theatre is part of the fabric of Melbourne and what makes it the most liveable city, so it’s so important to support live music and theatre. And I think most people are over sitting on the couch watching Netflix, they want real engagement!” Chidzey says.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical premieres at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre on November 12, 2021. Tickets are on sale now. 

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