Based on Baz Luhrmann’s epic love story, Moulin Rouge is a larger-than-life electrifying musical. Directed by Alex Timbers, this redefinition of the jukebox musical is relentlessly intense, stunning and spell-binding.
This reimagined classic is the ultimate stage experience
Newly arrived in Paris, Christian (Jamie Muscato) is adopted by the bohemian artists of Montmartre and taken to the Moulin Rouge, a cabaret club under the ownership of Harold Zidler (Matt Rixon), where he falls in love with the headliner, Satine (Melissa James). After some Shakespeare-like shenanigans, the pair embark on a love affair during rehearsals for the club’s new show, all the while hiding from the Duke (Ben Richards), who lay claim to Satine in exchange for financing the Moulin Rouge.
The multiple layers that we can peel back in this show make it one of the more complex in town, interpreting every implication to its fullest extent, and uncovering the hidden meaning that reveal themselves the more you think about them; all of which stems from the skilfulness of John Logan's book.
Failing to take itself seriously, other than in its production, Moulin Rouge is not short of comedic elements. This all stems from Timbers’ direction, which infuses every moment with an enjoyable sense of melodrama and fully explores the influence that Christian’s emotions have on the story.
Placing Christian directly in the centre has wonderful implications for how we see the characters and the events themselves, knowing that we see what he wants us to see, with the characters based on how he sees them. This forces us to ask questions about how Satine is presented, whether Christian a reliable narrator or simply romanticising, and if the Duke is truly as villainous as he appears. Perhaps, but we can never really know. Utilising a catalogue that ranges from Georges Bizet’s Habanera to Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, Justin Levine’s arrangements are high-powered and high-energy, reaching new levels with each song. The medleys are particularly impressive, even if it is just a snatch of a phrase or beat that we hear, and each one becomes a musical tapestry and whirlwind rapidly changing the atmosphere and creating an intoxicating sound.
The stunning visuals that are created by the blend of Sonya Tayeh’s choreography and Justin Townsend’s lighting design are surreal. They perfectly match the sinful, opulent and cheeky aesthetic of the Moulin Rouge, creating an incredibly enjoyable risqué throughout. The athletic feats that the performers undertake as part of Tayeh’s choreography are legendary, with their synchronicity of their movements, their continuous motion and their character work. This is exemplified in Christian reaching or trying to catch Satine, but with her staying just out of reach. There is just so much going on all at once. Catherine Zuber has a talent for striking a balance between individuality and collectivism. This is especially noticeable in the ensemble’s costume, as the details in her costume design differentiate each performer without drawing them away from the collective. Zuber’s costumes sparkle with elegance, and are a delight to behold.
The entire production is a dream, and the cast's execution of each movement is an impressive feat, topping every musical number with the next. It is a joy to see Muscato perform the nuanced character development from an aw-shucks country boy to young lover then to tortured artist. He switches between narrator and character seamlessly, showing detached awe and wistfulness one minute and playing his role in the story the next. The full force of Muscato's vocal abilities is best exemplified by his performance in El Tango De Roxanne, as we hear the torment and excruciation that is written through his body language, leaving the emotions in his voice completely suspended over the entire stage.
The relationship between Christian and Stine mirrors that of Orpheus and Eurydice, and we cannot help but get lost in their story, and forget what is to come and stay in the moment with them, despite the constant narrative reminders. Their arcs run almost parallel to each other, and Muscato and James circle each other like twin flames, adding to the myth-like tale of their characters' romance. Their interactions are incredibly tender, making clear that their love isn’t only eros - a passionate love - but also pragma, that is a love that endures. It’s the little details that show us how well-developed their relationship is, the stolen looks and touches, that convince us of the affection between their characters.
The words that are used to introduce us to James are 'unique and indomitable' which she certainly is, but after witnessing her performance, it seems like an understatement. She navigates the dual personality of Satine - the performer and person - which is made clear by her dramatic shifts in posture, expression and body language, often showing us her humanity whilst hiding it from the characters onstage. Whenever James lets us see behind the mask, we see all the vulnerability and strength that the character possesses. The range and strength that she exhibits makes her voice incredibly rich and full-bodied, and the support that she gives it whilst undertaking incredibly complex choreography is truly a heroic feat. James truly is a sparkling diamond.
This reimagined classic is the ultimate stage experience. After seeing Moulin Rouge, the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love this musical and to have a spectacular evening in return.