A spectacular spectacular, Moulin Rouge! the Musical arrives in Melbourne in ravishing form for its Australian premiere season.
While local theatregoers have historically had to endure a variety of wait times for Best Musical Tony Award winners to play here, Moulin Rouge! is surely the first time that a show took home the prize for Best Musical in New York while already bumped in and awaiting an opening date in Melbourne. The win for Best Musical was one of ten well-deserved Tony Awards that the 2019 Broadway musical won in September this year, marking a massive success for Australian-based production house Global Creatures.
The Tony Award success reflects the canny choices and loving care that have gone into bringing revered 2001 musical film Moulin Rouge! to the stage. Rather than taking the cynical approach of simply letting the blue-chip title sell itself, producers Carmen Pavlovic, Gerry Ryan and colleagues have assembled the cream of Broadway creative talent to bring the show to vivid present-day life. In particular, infinitely inventive director Alex Timbers is the perfect choice to imbue the staging with infectious ebullience and visual splendour.
Staged on a scale that makes it arguably the grandest musical to ever fill the mighty Regent Theatre, Moulin Rouge! has audiences wide-eyed and open-mouthed upon entering the auditorium. The neon Moulin Rouge! sign is framed by what seems to be an endless backdrop of valentine hearts, while an iconic windmill and noble elephant grace the Juliet boxes either side of house. The scenic design of Derek McLane and lighting design of Justin Townsend simply pour off the stage, reaching well beyond the proscenium arch to bathe the space in luscious red light.
Most impressive in McLane’s design is the fact that the extraordinarily sumptuous red and gold of the Moulin Rouge club itself can actually disappear for scenes in gritty yet poetic bohemian Montmartre and extravagantly swanky upper class Champs Élysées.
Masterful costume designer Catherine Zuber provides a mind-blowing array of wickedly ingenious costumes. Zuber’s eye for detail melds luscious colour, fascinating silhouettes, tactile fabrics and characterful flourishes. She has particular fun outfitting the upper class in exaggerated society wear in shades of delectable musk and mauve, paying something of a a tongue-in-cheek homage to My Fair Lady’s unforgettable Ascot scene.
In what must surely have been, at least in a very large part, a labour of love, musical supervisor Justin Levine has crafted thrilling orchestrations and arrangements for some 75 songs. The hits from the movie are there, along with a generous slew of popular songs released in the intervening years.
Taking a lead from Glee’s penchant for “mash-ups,” Levine deftly segues from “Diamonds Are Forever” to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” to “Material Girl” to “Single Ladies (Put A Ring on It)” to “Diamonds” – and that is just in one number. The “Elephant Love Medley”is now more elephantine than ever, and act two opener “Backstage Romance” is another heady standout, boosting “Bad Romance” with samples of “Tainted Love,” “Seven Nation Army,” “Toxic” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”
Choreographer Sonya Tayeh delivers sensational, sensual choreography that is as tightly rehearsed as it is wildly energetic. “Backstage Romance” is just one of the cavalcade of stunning highlights.
Resident musical director Luke Hunter leads just nine fellow musicians in delivering a smoothly integrated performance of the full spectrum of musical styles. Often generating the electric vibe of an arena pop concert, the music is heard at its pristine best due to the meticulous sound design of Peter Hylenski (supported here by sound design associate David Greasley). Particularly pleasing to hear is the forward positioning of the vocals in the mix, allowing lyrics and vocal expression to be heard and enjoyed with welcome ease.
All of this spectacle alone could have run the risk of being perilously soulless, but Timbers’ sure hand ensures that there is engaging intimacy at the heart of the action. John Logan’s book is written in bold but sure strokes, throwing chronic illness, encroaching poverty and a malevolent villain at the evergreen boy-meets-girl central couple. Blessed with delightful young lead performers, Timbers ensures that the romantic beats land crisply, surrounded by a teeming world of sex and intrigue, with splashes of cheeky humour for good measure.
Leading lady Alinta Chidzey takes Satine’s diamond theme literally, sparkling like a brightly polished multifaceted gem. Chidzey brings the impossible glamour of the sultry nightclub star and coveted courtesan but neatly underpins this with tender vulnerability. More than capably singing in all manner of styles, from belter to soprano to kitten and back again, Chidzey also dances the coquettish role with deceptively graceful ease.
A veritable beginner, Des Flanagan scores the career break of a lifetime as Christian. Flanagan more than repays the production’s faith in him, providing appealing vocals and moving with nimble elegance. In what could potentially have been an almost a one-note character, Flanagan conveys a solid character arc, taking the initially wide-eyed youth on a dark journey of discovery through the Parisian underworld.
Strong individually, Chidzey and Flanagan are terrific together, cultivating chemistry to spare as the lovers face and surmount vicious opposition. Amidst the sound and spectacle, the pair provides the beating heart of the story and are sure to be a significant factor in the success of this season.
A cherished stage veteran, Simon Burke has a ball as ringmaster Harold Zidler, an ageing showman scrimping by on little more than sheer will alone. Burke successfully sets the buzzy tone of the show in the opening sequence, and provides welcome laughs in act two as Zidler’s irrepressible ego bursts through in rehearsals for show within the show, Bohemian Rhapsody.
Cutting a striking figure, Andrew Cook plays the Duke as the best kind of villain, that being one who is in complete assurance that he is quite simply in the right. Cook scores laughs with his deadpan delivery of song lyrics that the audience quickly recognise from their original source.
Unrecognisable from his athletically energised alter ego Timomatic, Tim Omaji delivers a standout soulful performance as wisened artiste, and enigmatic philosopher, Toulouse-Lautrec.
Samantha Dodemaide achieves the near impossible, speaking with an Australian accent and yet avoiding any sort of cringe factor. As night-club dancer Nini, Dodemaide makes a strong impression as an independent young woman in confident command of her own sexuality.
Christopher J Scalzo is an eye-catching delight as fearless gender-fluid dancer Babydoll, conjuring up a rounded character from just a smattering of well-judged, splendidly performed moments in the spotlight.
An absolute must-see event for lovers of musical theatre, newcomers and everyone in between, Moulin Rouge! the Musical is decadent escapist fare that is sure to be a scorching hot ticket throughout the coming Melbourne summer and beyond.
Moulin Rouge! the Musical plays at Regent Theatre, Melbourne until 29 April 2021.
For tickets, click here.
Man in Chair reviewed Moulin Rouge! the Musical on Broadway.
To read the Marriner Group COVID Safe information, click here.
Photos: Michelle Grace Hunder
FROM DOWN UNDER: As @moulinmusicaluk readies for its #WestEnd premiere (at some point soon after Covid delays), @SimonManinChair reports from Melbourne on the ‘ravishing’ opening of @MoulinMusicalAU. #MoulinRouge #Broadwaytransfers #theatrereviews