Review: Moulin Rouge (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), fromĀ  May 28, 2022
Book: John Logan (based on the Baz Luhrmann film)
Director: Alex Timbers
Cast: Alinta Chidzey, Des Flanagan, Simon Burke, Tim Omaji, Andrew Cook, Ryan Gonzalez, Samantha Dodemaide, Olivia Vasquez, Ruwa Ngwenya, Christopher J Scalzo
Images by Michelle Grace Hunder

Theatre review
Satine is the only one who can rescue her beloved cabaret nightclub from financial devastation, but the arrival of a new love interest Christian, is causing all manner of unforeseen complications. The 2001 Baz Luhrmann hit movie Moulin Rouge was a riot of schmaltz and kitsch, memorable for its incongruous use of late century pop songs, for a story set in 1900. Two decades on, it seems that Luhrmann’s penchant for elevating what is generally considered to be low brow, is still a stroke of genius.

This live adaptation amps up the use of overfamiliar music from the pop charts, to create a show best described as a jukebox musical on steroids. Whether just a single line, or extended variations of monster tunes, this new Moulin Rouge speaks to us almost entirely through the pop canon. John Logan’s book plots the story cleverly, allowing plentiful action to occur on stage, in between short sections of dialogue to prop, but there is no question, that we are here for the spectacle.

Directed by Alex Timbers, Moulin Rouge is a rousing cacophonous affair, intricately manufactured so that our senses are completely absorbed, into a ceaselessly fascinating parade of extravagant scenes. The show is an unequivocal triumph for all its visual design aspects, and along with exuberant and powerful music arrangements, this is theatre that hypnotises and satisfies, in the most uplifting ways imaginable.

A remarkable cast brings infectious and palpable life to the stage; the ensemble in Moulin Rouge is alluring, spirited and disciplined, and we find ourselves connecting to the unnamed characters that they portray, as much as we do the prominent ones. Alinta Chidzey’s physical faculties as the tragically beautiful Satine are absolutely perfect, but her vocals can at times lack the lustre required to move us. Des Flanagan’s unbridled earnestness as Christian keeps our hearts open to the innocent love story, but it is Andrew Cook’s sizzling charm as rival The Duke, that sets pulses racing.

Playing the club owner in strife Harold Zidler, is Simon Burke who quite simply outshines everyone, with incomparable charisma and brilliant humour. Burke’s exceptional confidence and irrepressible effervescence are the key ingredients that make everything in Moulin Rouge feel so alive and poignant. Also deeply impressive are Tim Omaji and Ryan Gonzalez, who as Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago, deliver a valuable sense of emotional authenticity, for a tale that is essentially about the plight of struggling artists of the bohemian underground. Omaji’s quiet rendition of “Nature Boy” and Gonzalez’s blistering version of “Bad Romance” are frankly unforgettable and in their divergent ways, transcendent.

Art should not always be about what one thinks. There is a tendency in our evaluation of artistic expression, to prioritise that which can be articulated in words. So much of art however, is to give shape and form to the human experience, in ways that are beyond words. A reductive way to characterise the immense success of Moulin Rouge, is to say that it is wonderful, for how much it is able to make a person feel. The truth is that, great art can never be sufficiently translated, you simply have had to be there.