As soon as you step into the auditorium of the Piccadilly Theatre in the heart of the West End, you are transported to the decadent and colourful world of the Moulin Rouge in Paris. I don’t recall seeing a theatre so beautifully fitted out for a show – they’ve totally gone to town, and then some, with the redecoration. A criss-cross of red drapes and rope lights is strewn elegantly from the ceiling, and on either side of the stage, in place of the usual audience boxes, are a huge windmill and a big blue elephant – yes, it’s relevant to the story! From the stalls to the balcony, you are totally immersed in the look and feel of the show to come. You are also greeted with a scene setting pre-show of scantily clad dancers and acrobats meandering the stage, posing seductively, and staring knowingly into the audience. It certainly sets the mood and tone for the next 2 and half hours.
Based on the 2001 Baz Luhrmann film, this screen to stage adaptation is relentless in its delivery of show-stopping song and dance numbers, along with some more sedate vocals too – whether delivered as part of the story itself or one of the many eye-popping numbers performed by the Moulin Rouge dancers. In a similar vein to the movie, the show uses a multitude of pop songs from the last 40 years to tell the story – Elton, Gaga, The Stones, Rhianna, Adele amongst others and of course the mega hit Lady Marmalade are all included. Mainly sung in a ‘mega-mix’ style, some work better than others but all are delivered with gusto and 100% commitment from the company. There are one or two original songs, highlighted by the main love song ‘Come What May’ (itself taken from the movie). Oh, and it’s very loud too!
The basic premise of the story remains the same as the film. A love tryst between a young composer, Christian and the star of the cabaret, Santine is jeopardised by jealousy from the sneaky Duke and interrogation from the show owner Mr Zidler. The four main roles are played to great effect in this London production, especially Clive Carter as Zidler – who’s engagement with the audience as he pops up all over the theatre is excellent. Credit must also be given to the supporting company who each give their all – Christian’s friends Toulouse and Santiago steal their scenes. The Moulin Rouge dancers certainly get a workout as they perform too… and there are so many different costumes!
The main thing I took away from this show is that the money paid for your ticket is all clearly up there on the stage to be seen – and I felt I got every penny worth. The costumes and stage sets are truly phenomenal and as I’ve already said the theatre itself is breath taking. There are even seats available right in the heart of the action inside a catwalk section of the stage. Personally, I would feel a little too close for comfort in that position and a better overall view is gained slightly further back. Technically this is a jukebox musical, which I know some theatre fans are snobby about, but I didn’t really see it in the same way as many other jukebox shows. To me, this was just a wonderfully fun and entertaining burst of colour, energy and sound with dancing girls and boys giving us pure escapism to a world we may never otherwise experience – absolutely brilliant!