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'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' review — Baz Luhrmann’s classic film can-cans into the West End

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

The night belongs to the bohemians, as Baz Luhrmann's iconic 2001 film can-cans its way to vibrant life onstage in Alex Timbers's eyegasmic production. There's a new detail — an elephant, a windmill — everywhere you look in the bedazzled Piccadilly Theatre, dripping in red lights, lace, and velvet with Derek McLane's immersive set. Welcome to the Moulin Rouge. 

This is not your Parisian night club from the early 2000's in the film or from the turn-of-the-century (other century) France where the tragic love story of fledgling American writer Christian and washed-up showgirl Satine is set. This, mon chérie, is an all-new, all-adrenaline rush of a show that leverages the movie's magic and adds the secret ingredient: theatrical magic. 

Timbers is not afraid to use every tool in his directing arsenal with this self-aware, but not self-conscious, amalgamation of vintage and modern, classic and contemporary. Every creative team member is clearly working overtime to deliver excellence and opulence.

Seventy-plus pop songs, precisely arranged by music supervisor Justin Levine? Check. Show-stopping ensemble dance numbers choreographed like a pop concert by Sonya Tayeh? You bet. A veritable smorgasbord of lighting effects from designer Justin Townsend? Of course. Jewel-dripping bodices and crushed velvet for days in Catherine Zuber's elaborate ensembles? Bien sûr.

However, sometimes extravagance can mask the cracks, which make the barrier between art and life transparent. On Wednesday night's performance, this show-stopper literally stopped. During Act 2, between high-energy ensemble numbers "Chandelier" and "Roxanne," the show was held due to technical difficulties for about 20 minutes. 

While stage management handled everything smoothly and professionally, the momentary pause felt like watching a show within a show within a show. After all, Moulin Rouge! The Musical catalogues the backstage drama of the eponymous nightclub struggling to make it while putting on a new production.

Here we were in the audience, watching a company that's weathered more than its share of Covid difficulties and delays with an opening twice-postponed, still doing their thing and putting on a show, despite the hardship.

It's a testament to resilience and artistry, something that both the show and this company clearly celebrate. The leading lovers, played by Liisi LaFontaine and Jamie Bogyo, deliver a youthful energy that belies their characters' weary struggles, and each is charming and well-sung. 

However, the standouts of the evening are in the supporting cast and the ensemble. As writer and unabashed bohemian Toulouse-Lautrec, Jason Pennycooke steals every scene he's in, and Elia Lo Tauro oozes charisma as Christian's rapscallion friend Santiago. Clive Carter channels Jim Broadbent from the film in a pitch-perfect portrayal of the club's emcee Harold Ziegler, and every ensemble dancer deserves their own shoutout for the hard work and energy they're delivering onstage. 

After all, theatre and the Moulin Rouge are about family and community, something we've all been missing these past few years. Watching a powerful show where despite trials onstage and off, the power and perseverance of the human spirit is what overcomes, is healing. And as soon as those snaps click into place at the top of "Lady Marmalade," you know you're safe to go along for the ride. Lemme hear y'all flow, sistas. 

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is at the Piccadilly Theatre. Book Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

Photo credit: The London company of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. (Photo by Matt Crockett)

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