If you're looking for a toe-tapping, electrifying night of visually spectacular karaoke that will have you cheering "hooray for tuberculosis!" at the end of it - then Moulin Rouge! The Musical is the perfect choice for you.
However if you share a passion for the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film of the same name, expecting to see incredible live performances of the Chris Elliot's stellar arrangements of Roxanne and The Elephant Love Medley - strap in. This is going to be a bumpy ride.
Debuting on Broadway just 8 years after the film, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, upped the film's original 24 songs (including the medley) to an overwhelmingly crammed 71. Not a single song is left untouched, with Craig Armstrong's stunning orchestrations being shoved aside for drums, bass and doof-doof. Almost every musical item in this show is a mashup of songs one would expect to see at the top of a 'most popular songs to perform at karaoke' Buzzfeed article. From the opening number, it becomes most apparent that each mashup is formed around a theme ('dance', 'money', 'celebrate', 'diamonds' 'love' etc), and then any post 2000's hit that fits the bill, gets a gurney. Any sort of nuance or space that was in the film's original arrangements is gone. Even Come What May (the film's only original song) was boosted with a 'step and click' drum line. But again, if you're looking for a toe-tapping good time...
The Australian production kicked off in 2021, and after a COVID-helmed hiatus, made it's return to the stage two years later. The ensemble cast of this musical is absolutely brimming with fire and excitement. The opening of act one and especially act two are electric - with excellent prowess displayed by the four featured members - Samantha Dodemaide (Nini), Kahlia Davis (Arabia), Chaska Halliday (La Chocolat) and Christopher J Scalzo (Babydoll). Dodemaide is particularly a standout, proving that Dorothy has well and truely left Kansas. Oozing unfathomable amounts of sexual prowess and phenomenal physical technique, her duet with Ryan Gonzalez (Santiago) is exhilarating.
Newcomer to the cast (but certainly not the stage), Bert LaBonté makes his mark as Toulouse-Lautrec with a breathtaking performance of Nature Boy. Shout out to Chris Wright on guitar for a beautiful solo accompaniment for the top half of the song.
On the topic of the band - led by musical director Matthew Carey, it would be easy for one to assume the show is performed to a track. However this show is live and living, with a group of musicians at the top of their game. The sound design by David Greasley is punchy and crystal clear.
Where Moulin Rouge! The Musical really falters is the script and clunky song choices. In the film, Satine's condition is treated with flashes of dramatic moments that are sprinkled throughout the story, just lightly enough that often one gets so swept in the spectacle of it all, that each time it returns, the weight of the situation hits tis audience a little harder each time. Accumulating into an incredibly powerful final scene that takes places in a theatre, right to the back of a seating bank, with an unforgettable a capella rendition of Come What May so beautifully sung by Nicole Kidman. The musical, however, uses a giant black marker to write the words "I'm ill" on a brick, and then uses that brick to knock the audience repeatedly over the head, so that by the time we get to the finale, it's almost a relief that this painful journey is finally going to dock it's ship. Satine may still meet her tragic end, but you won't be sad for long, because the musical then powers full steam ahead with the longest mega mix of songs-from-the-cutting-room-floor you've ever witnessed. Because nothing screams "it's time to party" like a good bout of TB.
Once again - if you love the movie, this musical iteration will most likely disappoint, frustrate and confuse you. However, if you have never seen the movie, or perhaps didn't like the movie, then Moulin Rouge! The Musical may just well be one of the most exciting nights you've ever had at the theatre. The award-winning scenic design by Derek McLane is absolutely spectacular, Catherine Zuber's costumes are incredibly striking and the choreography by Sonya Tayeh is electric. All three of those creatives won multiple awards including a Tony Award - and rightly so.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is currently playing in Melbourne.
Information about tickets can be found here.
Images supplied by The Peach & Pineapple Co.