Theatre lights have been extinguished for the greater good of the community during this stop-start pandemic life but they are lit up again and aflame in red for the greater good at Melbourne’s grand Regent Theatre.
The explosive multi Tony award winning musical, Moulin Rouge, promises to transform your state of being. Even before the show begins, an alluring magical realm presents itself for which the heart and soul willingly give themselves.
On one side, the vanes of the Paris institution’s iconic red windmill rotate, on the other looms the film’s regal elephant. Umpteen chandeliers hang above and there’s a taste of the prancing and preying brilliant ensemble. It’s a mighty impressive entry.
The results of a mammoth collaborative effort, years in the making and headed by director Alex Timbers, Moulin Rouge is a mesmerising cocktail of entertainment, a great flood of jukebox song snippets and a smorgasbord of tantalising choreography and lavish costumes. On the surface, the pizzazz of Baz Luhrmann’s iconic 2001 film is honourably rendered.
A fantastical fin de siecle Paris reveals its opulence and charm in Derek McLane’s splendorous scenic designs. The tapestry of exoticism depicting Satine’s movie-matching boudoir is hard not to want to dive into and who else might have imagined taking home a 3-metre Eiffel Tower replica?
Catherine Zuber’s costumes along with wig, hair and makeup designer Kylie Clarke’s audacious styling are an ingenious bridge connecting sentiments past and present while Justin Townsend’s lighting design is a fabulously intricate blend of mood and colour.
It all comes to life in Sonya Tayeh’s thoroughly dynamic choreography, all of which is edgy, both geometrically rich and individuality expressive.
Rather than realise the film’s story with exactitude, however, the musical follows a flavoursome book by John Logan. Branching out and back with several surprises, the story makes its own individual mark on the passionate operatic romance between the bohemian poet Christian and dying courtesan Satine.
Despite some marginal broadening of character backstories, the results don’t always feel resolved and the intimacy often needs more oxygen amongst the frenzy. Nevertheless, what remains central to the story is love transcending all obstacles.
And they are written in plentifully, including an unexpected but frankly unnecessary suicidal threat by Christian in the final moments with poor Satine’s death wedged between that and a kaleidoscopic extravaganza that dances away the tragedy.
It seems box office success depends on giving an audience a high to go out on. At least, in this case, the Moulin Rouge owner and emcee Harold Zidler‘s insistence that “The show must go on!” is upheld. You probably wouldn’t want it any other way because the energy and beat of over 70 tunes is infectious.
Upheld too is the quality of performance. Starring in the original film, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor brought convincing truthfulness and pleasing naturalness to their parts in acting and music. Of course, they had take after take to get it so.
For the Melbourne stage, with the luxury of a proven local musical performer, Alinta Chidzey is an unforgettable diamond. From her descent from above in seductive style singing Diamonds are Forever – through the journey ahead revealing Satine’s vulnerability, strength and self-realisation, Chidzey lays out her charisma, flexibility and sparkling voice with effortless beauty.
As Christian, Des Flanagan gets the breakthrough a young artist dreams of and takes the stage with confidence and presence. Rather mimicking his character’s own timely opportunity to demonstrate his talents, Flanagan tenderly portrays Christian’s innocence and idealism with the vitality of youth.
Flanagan might look a little too clean-cut for a bohemian but never mind that when there is an embracing voice honed with warmth and versatility to bathe in.
The chemistry the duo share develops with lightning heartfelt desire while just managing the seemingly impossible task to shine through the enormity of visual and acoustic saturation.
The pair is accompanied by a splendid cast and ensemble. Simon Burke is a showmanship magnet and in his element as the indulgent but financially teetering Zidler. Andrew Cook is dastardly and dapper as the Duke, an unsavoury sort who believes he can buy whatever and whoever he chooses.
Tim Omaji imbues the artist Toulouse-Lautrec with striking sensitivity and Ryan Gonzales gives everything in his armoury of sex appeal and virility as the famous Argentinian tango dancer, Santiago.
It’s also a credit to the entire cast that the lyrics ring with purpose through songs and medleys of such wide-ranging genres.
For a world whirling in excess and all manner of pleasure, Justin Levine’s musical arrangements include many of the film’s intelligently juxtaposed songs with plenty more filed from the years since, with artists such as Beyoncé, Adele, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus.
The overall composition is tight knit and encompassing and goes a good way in establishing character and mood. And it’s perfectly assisted by bandmaster Luke Hunter who extracts maximum effect from just 9 musicians and Peter Hylenski’s sound design expertise, that bumps up the energy befitting the best night out at a club.
Symbolically, the framed receding laced heart motif that defines many a scene is a reminder of what the show is about. And while the poignant heart of the story may have to compete for space, the show offers seamless and exciting escapism, a window into love and consequence and is just the medicine needed as we accustom ourselves to going out together again.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne
Performance: Friday 26 November 2021
Season continues to 29 April 2022
For more information, visit: www.moulinrougemusical.com for details.
Images: Alinta Chidzey as Satine and Des Flanagan as Christian | Alinta Chidzey as Satine and Des Flanagan as Christian and Cast in Elephant Love Medley | Simon Burke as Harry Zidler | The Lady M’s – photos by Michelle Grace Hunder
Review: Paul Selar