Book by John Logan, Music Supervision, Orchestrations, Arrangements and Additional Lyrics by Justin Levine
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
Based on the 2001 Motion Picture directed by Baz Luhrmann, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, is as decadent, sparkly and debaucherously raucous as one could possibly want it to be. After winning the Tony ® for Best Musical in 2021, my expectations were high, especially with the soundtrack of the film being a constant feature on my Spotify playlists. Thankfully, the roughly two- and half-hour show is everything you could possibly want a stage show adaptation to be of Luhrmann’s smash-hit film.
Wherever this show goes, Derek McLane’s scenic design transforms the world of the space in which audiences sit. Even if this show had no substance to it, I could have just sat in awe of how the Capitol Theatre was transformed into what is very close to the real Moulin Rouge. The towering blue Elephant leers over the right-hand side of the audience, while dancers lure you in from cages on the mezzanine. The iconic rouge windmill sits on the left of the theatre, forever spinning, while in the middle of it all, a large incandescent Moulin Rouge sign sits, waiting for the show to begin.
The scenic design, coupled with Justin Townsend’s lighting, Sonya Tayeh’s choreography and Catherine Zuber’s costume design make the production value one which towers over most other productions that grace the stage. Masterfully organised by Alex Timber’s direction, the chaotic energy, and razzle dazzle spectacle of any Luhrmann film is lifted from the screen and placed on stage. The opening act of Moulin Rouge! complete with the ever popular ‘Lady Marmalade’ and the French Can-Can may just be the most insanely energetic spectacle in an opening of a musical I’ve seen. The challenge the show then creates for itself is, how do you keep this energy going?
Where Luhrmann’s original film is essentially a mashup jukebox musical, Moulin Rouge! dials it to eleven. When first listening to the soundtrack of the show, Justin Levine’s orchestrations and arrangements sounded like a hyper stylised episode of Glee. These arrangements are one such example of a score requiring the production to compliment it. When hopeless Bohemian romantic Christian (Des Flanagan) breaks out into samples of ‘Shutup and Dance with Me’, along with hits by Queen, Britney Spears, Adele and even Rick Astley, you may roll your eyes on first listen. However, whilst this use of call-and-response using lyrics from pop-songs is often played for humour, some of the duets are cleverly organised to suit the theme of the scene. Christian and Satine’s (Alinta Chidzey) back and forth of pro-love and anti-love ballads in the ‘Elephant Love Medley’ works well to speak the inner dialogue of the two characters.
In saying this, some choices don’t quite fit the scene or overall mood, Sia’s ‘Chandelier’ in the Absinthe scene was one of them. Surely, Kylie Minogue should have received a mention? It is refreshing, however, to see new pieces of theatre finally change the “jukebox method”. Shows like Jagged Little Pill, & Juliet and now Moulin Rouge! prove that the “jukebox method” works if you have a solid story to pull the audience along.
With an insanely impressive set, lighting, choreography and costume design, powerhouse performances and visual feasts, you’ll leave the Capitol Theatre well satiated.
Sparkling their way along this show’s story is Alinta Chidzey’s Satine and Des Flanagan’s Christian. With a solid chemistry between them, the pair stroke and tug at our heart strings in all the right places. Chidzey in particular bring a stellar rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ (I know but bear with me) showing incredible vocal control and performing ability to something that could easily have been a flop of a ballad.
Simon Burke’s debaucherous Harold Zidler has the most fun throughout the show, pulling switches, playing with the audience and popping out of hidden places. Tim Omaji, Ryan Gonzalez and (at this performance) James Bryers all bring solid supporting backup to the cast, with humour and harmonies that are just right. Special mention needs to be said for the sensuously sensational ‘Lady Marmalade’ showgirls, Samantha Dodemaide, Olivia Vásquez, Ruva Ngwenya and Christopher J Scalzo who had the crowd cheering just from their silhouettes.
There is just so much going on throughout the entire production of Moulin Rouge! that one viewing simply isn’t enough. With an insanely impressive set, lighting, choreography and costume design, powerhouse performances and visual feasts, you’ll leave the Capitol Theatre well satiated. If you are able to see this show, then you should if you Can-Can-Can!
Moulin Rouge! The Musical plays at the Sydney Capitol Theatre until 23rd October. You can book tickets here.
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BOOK John Logan
DIRECTOR Alex Timbers
CHOREOGRAPHER Sonya Tayeh
MUSIC SUPERVISOR, ORCHESTRATOR, ARRANGEMENTS & ADDITIONAL LYRICS Justin Levine
SCENIC DESIGNER Derek McLane
COSTUME DESIGNER Catherine Zuber
LIGHTING DESIGNER Justin Townsend
SOUND DESIGNER Peter Hylenski
Alinta Chidzey Satine
Des Flanagan Christian
Simon Burke AO Harold Zidler
Tim Omaji Toulouse-Lautrec
Andrew Cook The Duke
Ryan Gonzalez Santiago
Samantha Dodemaide Nini
Olivia Vásquez Arabia
Ruva Ngwenya La Chocolat
Christopher J Scalzo Babydoll
Patrice Tipoki Satine Alternate
James Bryers Principal Cover (Duke/Zidler)
Maxwell Simon Principal Cover (Christian/Duke)
AUSTRALIA CREATIVE TEAM
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR Jacinta John
ASSOCIATE MUSIC SUPERVISOR Stephen Amos
ASSOCIATE CHOREOGRAPHER Danielle Bilios
SET DESIGN ASSOCIATE Isabel Hudson
COSTUME DESIGN ASSOCIATE Janet Hine
LIGHTING DESIGN ASSOCIATE Gavan Swift
SOUND DESIGN ASSOCIATE David Greasley
WIG, HAIR AND MAKE UP DESIGN ASSOCIATE Kylie Clarke
RESIDENT DIRECTOR Jennifer Dean
RESIDENT MUSICAL DIRECTOR Luke Hunter
RESIDENT CHOREOGRAPHER Travis Khan
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