C’est magnifique – Moulin Rouge’s brilliance restores Melbourne’s joie de vivre

Alinta Chidzey sparkled as Satine, the diamond of the Moulin Rouge.

Alinta Chidzey sparkled as Satine, the diamond of the Moulin Rouge. Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

At long last, after its initial performances on Broadway in 2019, Moulin Rouge has made its way to Australia, and with a homegrown cast bringing a little local flair.

Based around the iconic Parisienne nightclub of the same name, this is the theatrical adaptation of Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s revolutionary 2001 film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.

With no curtain, seats arranged as part of the stage and walls draped in layers of carefully chosen red hues, you are instantly transported into the world-famous nightclub.

Glittering in the faux candlelight, cast members conduct subdued on-stage petit dialogues before a clicking sound and familiar bass line launch us into the first act, a mash-up beginning with Lady Marmalade called Welcome to the Moulin Rouge!

With tasteful burlesque, corsetted dance troupes (no nudity, this is not Paris circa 1899!), and colourful can can, the opening number sets the scene for what becomes a thoroughly spectacular show.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge paints the town red with electrifying performance. Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Simon Burke as jovial, crowd-pleasing club owner Harold Zidler boisterously insults members of the audience and offers a reminder: “This is more than a night club – [it] is a state of mind.”

A double introduction is beautifully done, with Christian’s backstory interrupted as Alinda Chidzey cuts a striking Satine, descending from the ceiling swinging in a dazzling corset.

It is a moment first made famous by Nicole Kidman, but leading lady Chidzey – of Chicago, West Side Story and Broadway to Oz – does not disappoint.

Her vocal and stylistic range is a marvel, while the casting of Des Flanagan as Christian, the dreamy poet, feels exactly right.

Alinta Chidzey (Satine) and Des Flanagan (Christian). Photo: Michelle Grace Hunder

Flanagan is fresh to the lead, but no novice to theatre, with credits including a supporting role in The Beautiful Game and swing for West Side Story. 

While you’re expecting an original score, instead Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend can be heard, which then segues into Rhianna’s Only Girl in the World.

The show flips the pop song on its head, making it a surprising, and amazing experience. Audible gasps, so much laughter, lots of noise, attest to the fact the audience feels entirely involved in their burlesque journey.

It’s all about the music

Baz Luhrmann has dubbed himself the “uncle” of this incarnation and entrusted Alex Timbers to direct it, with the score arranged by music supervisor Justin Levine.

The decision to pass the baton has paid off, the Broadway show cleaned up at the Tony Awards with 10 wins and 14 nominations.

“The art form is how you reveal that plot, heightening emotion through visual language devices and, most of all, the music,” Luhrmann said of his film.

He said while some fans of the original may be inclined to find the new score “sacrilegious”, he found the reinterpretation of his work thrilling.

“Once more, a Bohemian poet made his way to the underworld, and when he opened his mouth to convey his genius through poetry, all manner of popular music poured forth in re-mixes and mash-ups of songs we all know,” he said.

And as he went on to say, the audience connected with it in an “electrifying” way.

While the chemistry between lovers Satine and Christian is palpable and, indeed, spine-tingling as he pours out his sweet profession of love, making up a poem to his beloved through song, Andrew Cook as The Duke has some particularly poignant moments too. His reimagined twist on an R&B hit reveals a depth to his character.

Among the show’s five Tony Awards, we cannot argue with the nod to Catherine Zuber’s costume design.

Satine’s black corset, breasts covered in diamonds, is a standout, cleverly repurposed with added skirt and hat into a society dress as her wealthy lover, The Duke, attempts to fit her into his world on the fashionable Champs Elysées.

As for Tim Omaji (Timomatic) a reality TV star of the 1990s, his portrayal of Toulouse – nailing the accent (which, at times are a bit off-centre to country of origin) – shines during his solo performance.

The award-winning set design, courtesy of Derek McLane, is magnificent, giving the impression you are peeking into the seamless inner workings of the performance.

Every detail is meaningfully selected, from the miniature Parisienne buildings seen through the windows of the Elephant boudoir to the layered lace effect of the giant heart arches that frame the stage.

I found two huge Moulin Rouge fans after the performance. Photo: Vessela Karadjova

As the two-hour performance draws to a close, I expect a full standing ovation, but only pockets of the audience leap to their feet.

However, two Moulin Rouge super fans summed up the night perfectly, not only wearing floor-length red gowns, but the inspired tattoo ‘love and be loved’.

“I have missed theatre so much,” says Imogen Whittaker.

Esme (right) and Imogen (left) dressed for the occasion. Photo: Vessela Karadjova

Her friend Esme Louise James, tells me, “I don’t really have the words, it was just the best way to get back into being out and about and out of lockdown”.

For me, Moulin Rouge! wins the gold medal for bringing the city of Melbourne back to life.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is playing at the Regent Theatre until April 2022.

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