The Moulin Rouge Musical is without a doubt one of the most lavish decorations of a theatre I have ever seen. When you walk into the Piccadilly Theatre on Londons West End, the deep red curtains and drapes reach from the set into the audience, the lights and mechanicals around the stage are spellbinding and captivate you, it really does set the bar high for future set designers to even attempt to compete with the overwhelming nature of it all. The acrobatic cast come out into the audience in an array of burlesque costumes and steal your attention with their incredible ability. I cannot find the words to explain how talented the cast are, with their perfectly syncopated choreography, their pitch perfect singing and excellent acting ability. The opening song, you guessed it, Lady Marmalade, grabs the audience by the balls with a light show, pyrotechnics and cacophonous volume and honest to god is the highlight of the show, then it is down-hill from there.
The most beautiful and luxurious set ever to don a stage is teamed with a fantastically talented group of performers, which was all unfortunately held back by a musical relying on poor mash-ups of any and every song that has ever bothered the top 10 singles chart and a plot that didn’t interest me in the slightest when the film was released.
The diamond of the Moulin Rouge is Satine, played by Melissa James, who is introduced to the stage by the exceptionally camp and captivating Harold Zidler (Matt Rixon) with a medley of any song the writer could be bothered to find that contained the word ‘Diamond’, I thought this was pretty cheesy, but it’s a musical so lets have a bit. However, as the play reaches the end of the first act Christan (Jamie Muscato) and Satine perform yet another medley of love songs, which sounds very similar to the Axis of Awesome comedy song ‘The 4 Chord Song’, however it was performed without irony or humour, which made it quite annoying to watch.
The worst use of a top 10 song in this musical was the shoe-horn of Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ performed as a ballad, the performance was incredible and Melissa is one impressive singer, but the song had no reason to be there! If original songs were used, or even a more relevant selection of lesser known pop songs, then this musical would have made more sense and would have given me the buy-in that I needed to enjoy this show. Unfortunately, the main aim of this production seems to be another Jukebox musical cash grab, ‘lets make it loud and pretty and fill it with pop songs that the non-theatre people will know so we sell more tickets as they go home singing songs of Lady Gaga and Rhianna’, they may have said.
Up to this point the review is pretty damning, it is an impressive musical and a fantastic performance and I would urge anyone to go and see it to get a masterclass in performance. However when you consider the immersive elements and the familiarity of the pop songs then introduce the sea of non-theatre audiences that it does, one thing I noticed, with an alarming regularity, was that theatre etiquette was not only poor it was disgustingly disrespectful. I had to tell three people to stop talking throughout the show, one person had a 20-minute conversation behind me (yes, I timed it!), people checking their Facebook mid-way through the show and even some being rude to the steward who were only trying to do their job by stopping them filming the performance on their phone.
It’s not at all surprising to see the long list of people responsible for the production, because (nearly) every element of the shows production was thoroughly and meticulously planned, I don’t want to use the idiom about ‘polishing a…’, but the aforementioned let down really did shine through for me. I do think part of my annoyance is that I saw this show the same day I saw ‘Operation Mincemeat’, which hasn’t been publicised in the same way, despite having the same producing house (ATG). ‘Operation Mincemeat’ created such an incredible show without all the gimmicks, glitz and glamour (and I dare say an eighth of the budget) but was far better because of the quality of the storytelling, where Moulin Rouge told me a wet story that was constantly interrupted by irrelevant musical interludes.
Rather than try to string together a stream of thoughts in a literate way, I am simply going to give you the bullet points I wrote on my notepad directly after seeing the show:
Every song seems to end with the entire company doing a dance whilst lights flash and pyrotechnics roar.
The show is like the TV show ‘Glee’ on a concoction of Viagra and LSD.
It seems to be a show of ‘how many difference songs can we sing or reference with a cheeky sideways glance to the audience to be sure they know that this song bothered the top 40’.
Toulouse (Ian Carlyle) and Santiago (Elia Lo Tauro) are brilliant.
Ben Richards played the Duke amazingly, the audience should have cheered him during the bows, the booing felt like I was amongst children at a pantomime.
All things said and everything considered, I do not regret buying a ticket to this show, even though the price was extortionate, and I am glad I got to see a show in which every person involved in this specific production gave everything they had to be sure the audience had the best time they possibly can. Please do not be put off this show based on my review, go and see this show for yourself and make your own judgements. The cast and crew really have brought the legendary Moulin Rouge to the West End of London; securing this shows inevitable longevity.