Jamie Muscato and Melissa James on finding their inner Christian and Satine in 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical'

“Through rehearsals, we built up our version, but then managed to make it bigger and bolder. We don't shy away from big choices,” said James.

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

When you’re watching a performance of Moulin Rouge! The Musical, you won’t know where to look. Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 movie about the Parisian cabaret is now an eye-popping musical extravaganza thanks to Derek McClane’s stunning set design, Catherine Zuber’s bold costumes, and Justin Townsend’s striking lighting. The Moulin Rouge is well and truly alive in the West End.

The show also relies on strong chemistry between the love interests: Christian, the budding American writer who travels to Paris for literary inspiration, and Satine, the Moulin Rouge’s dazzling chanteuse who risks her life for the club. There’s a new Christian and Satine in town, as Jamie Muscato and Melissa James take over and put their own stamp on the romantic duo.

“Through rehearsals, we built up our version, but then managed to make it bigger and bolder. We don't shy away from big choices,” said James. Even though James and Muscato have never worked with each other before, they immediately clicked, and they’re enjoying the chance to mould the roles into their own.

“We’ve got such a good team of resident directors and everyone that works on the show already. I felt immediately comfortable and it's great working with Mel, we like to create new things in the moment and play,” said Muscato. But how can actors play with Moulin Rouge! The Musical? We chatted with the pair about preparing for the spectacular spectacular eight times a week.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Book Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

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Did you see Moulin Rouge! The Musical before you joined the show?

Melissa James: Yeah, I saw it twice. I saw it when I was auditioning, and that was with the alternate Satine and Christian. When we were in rehearsals, me and Jamie sneaked in to a show and watched Liisi [LaFontaine] and Jamie [Bogyo] do it.

We decided to watch it after we'd done our rehearsals. All the way through, we were like, “Shall we watch it?” Then we decided, “No, let’s just get our version done first all the way to the end, and then we’ll feel okay to watch.”

It was just good to see how the lighting works and what accentuates moments. You might think “Oh god!” but then you realise the technical side of the show elevates everything so much that it helps a lot. We were excited. We really enjoyed it! It didn’t affect us either way, we just had a nice time.

Jamie, you've been in quite a few West End shows like Les Miserables and Heathers, but what makes Moulin Rouge! The Musical stand out for you?

Jamie Muscato: The sheer scale of it. It’s an absolute beast. Everyone is at the top of their game. Nobody slacks off, ever. We’re doing the best we can do eight shows a week. The audience is insane every single night. It still feels like a shiny new toy to the people working on it and people watching it.

Melissa: I’ve had people come three or four times. Family members and friends keep coming and that’s something, because usually they’ll see a show and be like, “Okay, that’s it now.”

Jamie: I've got people telling me they get Moulin Rouge withdrawal. They need to come and get their fix.

Melissa, what does it mean for you to step into Satine’s shoes?

Melissa: It means a lot. I am extremely happy and grateful and feel blessed to be surrounded by a lot of talented people that really love the show and put a lot of hard work into making it what it is.

I loved the film. I didn’t watch it when I was younger, but when I got into drama school, I decided to watch it. I loved the madness and the chaos of it.

To play a role like this in the West End is a dream come true. It’s something that people work towards, I feel like I’ve been working towards it since I left drama school over a decade ago. I feel like I've got it at a time when I can really embrace it and have fun and not panic. If I’d got this a few years ago, I might have felt a bit in my head, but right now, I’m very, very happy to be here.

Satine and Christian are big roles, physically and vocally. How do the pair of you prepare for each performance?

Melissa: I’m going to be honest, my preparation for the show is as little as possible. I don't like to have lots of things that make me think “Oh, if I hadn't done that today, then I can't do it.” I warm my voice up, I get some food, and then I do the show.

We've worked hard and we’ve built stamina, so it’s more of a mindset for me just to know that it's in there. And if it's not, it's still okay.

Jamie: It will never be as hard as rehearsals. During the rehearsal period, you’re in all day singing and doing the numbers five times a day. So you build up through that rehearsal period, you build up the stamina of being able to do it a lot. And then when you're doing shows, you have the adrenaline and the audience.

I think we both work in quite a similar way; we know it will be there. It'll be slightly different each day, which is a good thing.

What do you enjoy most about how each other plays their role?

Jamie: It’s the truthfulness for me that Mel has. It’s difficult to sing Katy Perry's “Firework” and make it mean something, but she makes that happen every single night. It’s looking into her eyes on stage and seeing that she's in the moment. It feels like artwork.

Melissa: I’m going to echo Jamie, his truthfulness and playfulness and the fact that you know that whatever we throw at each other, we're gonna react in that moment. So there's never going to be like, “Oh, well this happened this way.” It's just constant bouncing off each other and truthfulness and honesty. And his voice is really good (laughs).

What's your favourite song in the show?

Jamie: I love doing the “Elephant Love Medley.” You get to sing all those amazing songs and go through loads of different sort of emotional journeys through those songs. Then it ends with us on a light-up Eiffel Tower with a pink umbrella and people spinning.

Melissa: To me, it's a bit different. The show is constant chaos — you do not stop. I like the moments that are quite settled and everything just calms down. I enjoy “Your Song” and “Come What May,” because I can breathe, settle, and relax. I love all of them! But because the show keeps going, those moments are nice to exhale.

Why is Moulin Rouge! The Musical such a spectacular spectacular?

Jamie: I wasn’t there during the creation of it, but it feels like there was hardly any compromise for the artistic vision. There are countless confetti drops. There's countless set pieces that come in; they redesigned the front of house to make it feel like the Moulin Rouge. There’s no compromise in the artistic vision, it’s rare. The show proves itself every night.

Photo credit: Jamie Muscato and Melissa James in Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matt Crockett)

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