Piccadilly Theatre , London
A tale of two halves, Moulin Rouge the Musical is both a spectacular spectacular and a chaotic conundrum. Based on the 2001 film of the same name, it tells the story of fated lovers Christian and Satine, who despite the hardships which surround them, just want to be free to love one another. This musical adaptation takes elements from the film but also puts an extreme jukebox spin on the whole thing.
The real issue with Moulin Rouge is the clunky, all over the place book, which, especially in act one, feels basic. Random lines of dialogue are interspersed with pop songs that come out of nowhere and elicit awkward laughter from the audience; and the show feels confused, as if it can’t decide whether to lean into the comedy or try to be a serious show. There are also a number of side character arcs woven in to further the plot, each of which feel too random and under-developed to really elevate the show in any way. The heart of the story is Christian and Satine love and it would be more effective if we only followed their story.
However, on the other side of the coin, the musical is a visual masterpiece which completely astounds. It’s the epitome of razzle dazzle, and the set certainly the most spectacular in the West End right now. Derek McLane has created a sumptuous backdrop which has details hidden in every corner of the auditorium, from the elephant who towers over, to the mini Moulin Rouges embossed in the golden decadence of the facade. Paired with Catherine Zuber’s divine costumes, you really couldn’t ask for more in terms of aesthetics.
Also, after a pantomime-esque act one, the musical really steps up a gear. In act two the stakes get higher, the performances get more intense and it really becomes the show you’d expect. As leading man Christian, Jamie Muscato is absolutely glorious, serving divine vocals throughout and also bringing a charming, comedic side to the role. Crazy Rolling is a superb stand out moment, as is El Tango de Roxanne, which includes both breathtakingly good vocals, and fantastic dancing by Amy Thornton and Elia Lo Tauro.
Both Ben Richards and Matt Rixon as the Duke and Harold Zidler respectively, are good as the ‘baddies’ but do lack a darker level of menacing that would really add to their performances. As Satine, Melissa James has some great moments, especially her duet of ‘Come What May’, a moment where I felt things levelled up and I became much more invested in the story.
Perhaps the most effective part of the musical are the group numbers where the ensemble come together with upmost energy to perform Sonya Tayeh’s abundant choreography. The opening Lady Marmalade number is particularly impressive and there’s no denying how talented this cast are.
Overall, a three star act one, a five star set, and a four star act two make this a distinctly middle of the ground show and there’s definitely elements of style over substance, but when it’s good, it’s really good and worth seeing for the Act Two opening number alone.