Words: Simon Button; Image: Matt Crockett
As spectacular spectaculars go, Moulin Rouge! The Musical is one of the most eye-poppingly dazzling I’ve ever seen.
The spectacle starts as soon as you enter the auditorium, which has been transformed into the Pigalle of Paris with a windmill and a big blue elephant flanking the red-draped stage of the Moulin Rouge itself and a catwalk weaving through the first couple of rows.
The musical (sticking faithfully to the Baz Luhrmann movie but with a few new song choices) then starts in a blaze of gaudy glory as showman Harold Zidler (Clive Carter, having an absolute blast) whisks us through a whirl of can-can dancing and chorus boy gymnastics to the tune of ‘Lady Marmalade’ and ‘Because We Can’ among others.
Liisi LaFontaine’s entrance as Moulin Rouge headliner Satine is equally dazzling as she descends from the ceiling on a swing whilst belting out ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ but it soon becomes clear she’s been miscast. A much better singer than Nicole Kidman in the film, she’s nonetheless outdanced by the ensemble and with dark hair and jet-black basque this Satine doesn’t stand out from the crowd.
Liisi LaFontaine as Satine (Photography: Johan Persson)
LaFontaine give it her all and she’s really good in dramatic moments but, as directed by Alex Timbers and scripted by John Logan, the character has been reconceived as a tough cookie rather than a flirty coquette and there’s little comedy in her courtship with struggling artist Christian.
Making his professional debut, Jamie Bogyo fares better. He’s as boyishly wide-eyed as Ewan McGregor was in the film and he’s a fantastic singer who brings the house down with his impassioned take on Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’.
The true scene-stealer, though, is Jason Pennycooke as an impish Toulouse-Lautrec. He’s every bit as vibrant as the new take on Satine is dull and he actually has more on-stage chemistry with Bogyo than LaFontaine does.
Photography: Johan Persson
But it’s not the love story that propels the show, it’s the razzle dazzle - and Catherine Zuber’s stunning costumes, Sonya Tayeh’s intricate choreography and Derek McLane’s clever scenic design (complete with scaled-down Parisienne rooftops and a miniature Eiffel Tower way off in the distant) are a razzle dazzle masterclass.
Then there’s the music, which features original mashups from the movie with brilliant new ones like the fusion of ‘Bad Romance’ with ‘Toxic’ and ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ which opens Act II with such energy it almost blows the roof off the place.
And if the plot itself ends on a bit of a downer there’s the obligatory medley of best bits to send the audience out on a giddy high. You might not care about the fate of these ill-fated lovers but you’ll be singing your head off.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical is at the Piccadilly Theatre, London. For tickets click here.