Twenty-one years after production wrapped on Baz Luhrmann’s film at Sydney’s Fox Studios, the musical version of Moulin Rouge has opened just three kilometres away at the Capitol Theatre. Directed by Alex Timbers and with a book by John Logan, Luhrmann’s extravagant Parisian tale about the overarching importance of truth, beauty, freedom, and love has been transformed into a stage production that offers audiences one of the most visually spectacular musical theatre experiences to arrive in Sydney in recent years.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical takes audiences back to the beginning of the twentieth century. A wide-eyed Bohemian man from the US, Christian (Des Flanagan), arrives in Paris’s Montmartre Quarter and soon finds himself at the legendary cabaret club, where he falls in love with star performer, Satine (Alinta Chidzey). But any plans that Christian may have to live the life he yearns for with Satine are quickly scuppered by the reality that the club’s new investor, the Duke of Monroth (Andrew Cook), has also set his sights on the Moulin Rouge’s ‘Sparkling Diamond’ and has no qualms about allowing the club to fall into financial ruin if he doesn’t get what he wants.
In this stage production, the storytelling is assisted by over 70 songs. Some of the numbers (including the iconic ‘Lady Marmalade’ and Elton John’s ‘Your Song’) were part of the film’s original soundtrack, but many others have been added, including chart-topping hits by Adele, P!nk, Rihanna, Beyoncé and Sia. Justin Levine has woven everything together into a highly energetic and cohesive score, powerfully reproduced here by a terrific 10-piece band led by Australian musical director Luke Hunter. Peter Hylenski’s sound design, meanwhile, helps to create a rock concert-esque experience, aided amply by Justin Townsend’s incredibly dynamic lighting design.
Like the film, one of the standout accomplishments of Moulin Rouge! The Musical is its opulent production design. Derek McLane’s stunning set expands out into the auditorium, evoking an immersive feel from the get-go. There’s a vibrant use of colour in both the set and in Catherine Zuber’s magnificent costumes, creating a visual world paying homage to that created by Luhrmann in the film. There’s so much to look at both on and around the stage, and so many intricate details to appreciate in the design. Timbers and his designers have done remarkable work here.
As to the performers, Flanagan and Chidzey are wonderfully cast as the star-crossed lovers. Flanagan completely convinces as the dashing, idealistic and romantic Christian, prepared to pursue Satine at any cost. His tenor does well in handling some challenging vocal numbers, including one of Act II’s standout moments, ‘El Tango De Roxanne’. Chidzey suitably sparkles as Satine, thanks both to Zuber’s costumes and her own compelling presence. She, too, sings well and succeeds in her portrayal of the Moulin Rouge’s star performer, carrying the weight of the club’s success on her shoulders.
But there are several players deserving of praise on opening night. Simon Burke has seemingly boundless energy as the club impresario Harold Zidler and owns the role from his first moment on stage. Tim Omaji is one of the standout players as resident artiste Toulouse-Lautrec. His excellent characterisation is complemented by an impressive vocal performance, particularly on Act I’s ‘Nature boy’, which is so well considered that it feels like organic storytelling. Ryan Gonzalez is another standout as the fervent Argentinian dancer Santiago. Their sizeable talents (alongside those of Samantha Dodemaide, as Nini) are critical to making Act II opener, ‘Backstage romance’, an absolute show highlight. And then there’s Cook, who is disarmingly charming as wealthy financier the Duke of Monroth, but also skilfully portrays a character who is fundamentally dark and vicious.
The other star of this production is Sonya Tayeh’s exhilarating choreography. Highly anticipated routines, like the can-can, deliver just as you hope they will, and it’s a treat to sit back and soak up all of the dance numbers, including some exceptional pas de deux work.
In 2022, Sydney audiences will be hard placed to find a musical theatre production that offers a greater combination of sheer spectacle and entertainment than Moulin Rouge! The Musical. Combining visual splendour with a score of hummable pop classics and some of Australia’s greatest theatre talent, this is an experience not to be missed.
Review by Tim Garratt
Photo credits: Michelle Grace Hunder and Chris Parker.
Tickets for the Sydney season of Moulin Rouge! The Musical are on sale now exclusively through Ticketmaster.