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Photo credit: Moulin Rouge! The Musical (Photo by Matt Crockett)

We spent a day with the 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical' West End cast and creative team

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Hey sista, go sista! Moulin Rouge! The Musical is in London, and we’re ready to experience the classic story of truth, beauty, freedom, and love in the West End. Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, Moulin Rouge!, ushered in a new era of jukebox musical films. Blockbusters like Mamma Mia!, The Greatest Showman, and La La Land owe a debt of gratitude to Moulin Rouge! for popularising musical stories on screen. Now, the high-kicking, soul-stirring dance spectacular has now been adapted for the stage, and it’s a hot ticket.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical won 10 Tony Awards on Broadway, so all eyes are on its London transfer, which officially opened at the Piccadilly Theatre in January 2022. Lots of work went into honouring the film’s legacy on stage, as well as making the bohemian glamour a reality. Discover behind the scenes secrets about Moulin Rouge! The Musical in London’s West End, and then see the show for yourself.

Book Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is more authentic in London

According to director Alex Timbers, Moulin Rouge! The Musical lends itself better to the West End than on Broadway, and that’s down to the European theatrical styles used throughout the story. “The show plays so much on English music hall, panto, and French farce. [Moulin Rouge!] is so much more intimate here because of it, so you really feel in the same room as those characters.”

Even though the show originated in the United States, director Alex Timbers said the musical fits in better with London’s landscape. Timbers said: “ Moulin Rouge! is more in people’s DNA in London. When the Duke comes out at the end and people boo them, that would never happen in New York.” Maybe Moulin Rouge! The Musical will stay in London for years to come?

Moulin Rouge! inspired Alex Timbers to become a theatre director

When the Moulin Rouge! film came out in cinemas, nobody could have expected how the movie would go on to define early 21st-century cinema. The story also inspired a generation of young creatives, including Moulin Rouge! The Musical director Alex Timbers. In fact, his theatre company, Les Freres Corbusier, focuses on taking historical subject matter and infusing it with a pop aesthetic.

“I remember seeing the film when I’d just graduated from college,” Timbers says. “I remember stepping out of that movie theatre and seeing all the ideas of love soaring, and all the visceral emotional themes that are used throughout the film…Moulin Rouge! really changed the way I looked at art.”

Baz Luhrmann’s films also inspired Jason Pennycooke, who plays Toulouse-Lautrec, to become an actor

For Jason Pennycooke, who plays the colourful French bohemian Toulouse-Lautrec, Baz Luhrmann’s film catalogue inspired him to pursue an acting career. At first, Pennycooke found playing this physically-challenged character daunting, but to appear in a show with a Baz Luhrmann story was something special. “It’s just the spectacle of it and the way it hits you, there’s nothing like it. I love the work of Baz Luhrmann anyway. Romeo and Juliet had the same kind of effects on me.”

Many of the London cast members were kids when the Moulin Rouge! film premiered When the Moulin Rouge! film was released in 2001, most of the cast were too young to appreciate the story in all its glory. Liisi LaFontaine, who plays cabaret singer and star of the Moulin Rouge, Satine, was five years old.

While she obviously never watched the original movie in 2001, watching Moulin Rouge! on repeat as a teenager and falling for the film’s hype still hold important memories for her. Now, LaFontaine flies down into the Piccadilly Theatre auditorium as the sparkling diamond herself.

Jamie Bogyo, who plays Christian, grew up with the “Elephant Love Medley”
When asking Jamie Bogyo, who plays Christian, what he thinks of the Moulin Rouge! film, he’s immediately drawn to the power of “Elephant Love Medley”, a romantic mashup of six songs in one. Growing up, Bogyo remembered listening to the "Elephant Love Medley", and it quickly became one of his favourite songs to listen to. Now, decades later, Bogyo sings the iconic medley eight times a week at the Piccadilly Theatre.

The first song in Moulin Rouge! The Musical is eight minutes long

The music in Moulin Rouge! The Musical keeps going… and going! The first song, “Welcome to the Moulin Rouge” clocks in at eight minutes, and includes excerpts from four songs: “Lady Marmalade” by Labelle, “So Fresh, So Clean” by Outkast, “Rhythm of the Night” by DeBarge, and “Because We Can” by Fatboy Slim. By the end of the musical number, you’ll definitely feel welcomed into the Moulin Rouge cabaret.

The Moulin Rouge! The Musical choreography was created in silence

Combining dozens of song styles into cohesive dance routines is a tricky prospect for any choreographer, however Sonya Tayeh found that finding the right movements came from being in a quiet place. Tayeh said: “I work in silence first because I want to make sure that [moves are] coming out from a sincere place, just in my own brain.” Then it’s all about putting the sounds of top on it, seeing what’s generating and taking it from there. The moves just evolve naturally.”

Moulin Rouge! The Musical includes tracks from the movie, and new pop songs When you’re watching Moulin Rouge! The Musical in London, you’ll recognise some of the breakout songs from the film, such as “Come What May” and “Your Song.” There are some songs from the film which don’t feature in the stage adaptation, but there’s new songs to listen out for instead.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical features over 70 songs in the show, including “Chandelier” by Sia, and “Firework” by Katy Perry. We won’t spoil all the new creations here, but you won’t be left disappointed.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical in London is different to Broadway and Australia There are three Moulin Rouge! The Musical productions open worldwide: New York, Australia, and London all have their own Moulin Rouge! stage shows. But if you’ve seen the show elsewhere, the London atmosphere will change your expectations of the show.

Choreographer Sonya Tayeh said that audiences all around the world react in unique ways. Tayeh said: “Every Moulin Rouge! has its own response world. That’s how beautifully curated the music is. It really is this beating pulse that everyone connects to differently.”

Book Moulin Rouge! The Musical tickets on London Theatre.

Conversations have been edited for clarity and length.

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