Review: Moulin Rouge (Capitol Theatre)

Venue: Capitol Theatre (Sydney NSW), from  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.

www.moulinrougemusical.com

Suzy Goes See’s Best Of 2014

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2014 has been a busy year. Choosing memorable moments from the 194 shows I had reviewed in these 12 months is a mind-bending exercise, but a wonderful opportunity that shows just how amazing and vibrant, theatre people are in Sydney. Thank you to artists, companies, publicists and punters who continue to support Suzy Goes See. Have a lovely holiday season and a happy new year! Now on to the Best Of 2014 list (all in random order)…

Suzy x

 Avant Garde Angels
The bravest and most creatively experimental works in 2014.

 Quirky Questers
The most unusual and colourful characters to appear on our stages in 2014.

♥ Design Doyennes
Outstanding visual design in 2014. Fabulous lights, sets and costumes.

♥ Darlings Of Dance
Breathtaking brilliance in the dance space of 2014.

♥ Musical Marvels
Outstanding performers in cabaret and musicals in 2014.

♥ Second Fiddle Superstars
Scene-stealers of 2014 in supporting roles.

♥ Ensemble Excellence
Casts in 2014 rich with chemistry and talent.

♥ Champs Of Comedy
Best comedic performances of 2014.

♥ Daredevils Of Drama
Best actors in dramatic roles in 2014.

♥ Wise With Words
Best new scripts of 2014.

 Directorial Dominance
Best direction in 2014.

♥ Shows Of The Year
The mighty Top 10.

♥ Suzy’s Special Soft Spot
A special mention for the diversity of cultures that have featured in its programming this year.

  • ATYP

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Photography by Roderick Ng, Dec 2014

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Best of 2018 | Best of 2017 | Best of 2016Best of 2015Best Of 2013

Review: Strictly Ballroom (Lyric Theatre)

Venue: Lyric Theatre (Sydney NSW), from Mar 25, 2014
Book: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Original Score: Elliot Wheeler
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Choreographer: John O’Connell
Performers: Thomas Lacey, Phoebe Panaretos, Bob Baines, Drew Forsythe, Natalie Gamsu, Robert Grubb, Fernando Mira, Heather Mitchell, Mark Owen-Taylor, Sophia Katos

Theatre review (originally published at auditoriummag.com)
The transformation of Strictly Ballroom into a work for the musical stage is a logical progression. The themes and structure of the film obviously lend themselves to a rendering that would fit readily into the popular genre, and Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for ostentation, flamboyance, and musical numbers in his films makes him a marketer’s dream in this lucrative market.

As an internationally lauded luminary of film imagery, our expectations of production and costume design in his show are understandably high. Fresh from receiving her third and fourth Academy Awards just a month prior to opening night, long-time collaborator Catherine Martin’s work as set and costume designer is irrefutably stunning. Working with already outlandish costumes from the world of ballroom dancing, Martin’s creations take a giant leap forward, into a realm of fairy tales and pure fantasy. There is no requirement for restraint on this stage, and we are treated to the most gloriously colourful and glitzy wigs and costumes that had previously existed only in our dreams.

Martin’s sets are effective and dynamic. The scenes are not located anywhere exotic, but the several suburban venues depicted are created with flair and great imagination. There is very efficient use of space with mobile pieces that work independently, but are also combined for different perspectives. It is not a story that features pyramids, castles or helicopters, but this is a visually arresting stage, which exploits every depth and height that the space can afford, and which sparkles at every corner. There are sequins, paillettes, beads and crystals shimmering at all times, helping to establish an aesthetic that fits in perfectly with this fantastical realm.

Strictly Ballroom embraces wholeheartedly the kitsch value of musicals, and its visual elements are only the beginning. Although it does carefully cater to middle class family audiences, every aspect is expressed through a rejection of banal refinement and conventional good taste. Its story is highly romanticised, the emotions it portrays are brash, the songs are oversweet and obvious, and all performers approach their roles with a sense of unbridled and confident exaggeration. If there is ever a moment for a concoction with this much cheese to work, this would be it, but very unfortunately, the show misses its mark on several levels.

Humour is appropriately peppered throughout the plot. There is much to make fun of, with ridiculous characters and contexts all clearly bearing the promise to deliver laughs, but many of the jokes fall flat. Luhrmann’s direction seems to lack an emphasis on the comedy. Punchlines often do not work, and the atmosphere struggles to keep buoyant. An exception is the role of Liz, played by Sophia Katos, who is memorable as the most consistently funny member of the cast. A number of roles have been created chiefly for comic relief, and Katos’ execution is clearly the strongest.

Leading the cast is Thomas Lacey, an attractive man and a strong dancer, both qualities shared by his character Scott Hastings. Lacey is also an adequate singer, but the scale of the production requires a much more experienced voice that will stand its own amongst all the frenetic activity on stage. Weaker still is Lacey’s acting, which fails to connect him with his love interest, and renders their relationship completely uninteresting and unconvincing. Equally responsible is Phoebe Panaretos, who is admittedly more evenly skilled in the various disciplines of musical theatre, but her lack of charisma in the very central role of Fran is a key disappointment. Panaretos is not a weak performer, but it is evident that she is simply too inexperienced for the challenge bestowed upon her.

Better performances come from the likes of Heather Mitchell, who is endearing as Shirley Hastings, the male protagonist’s mother. Mitchell’s characterisation is vibrant and believable, and although not the strongest of singers, she brings a warmth to the production despite playing someone fairly unpleasant. Also in parental roles are Natalie Gamsu and Fernando Mira, who both impress as characters of Spanish heritage. Gamsu’s distinctive voice is outstanding in a production that seems to have cast performers according to dance ability and appearance, and Mira is a charismatic actor, whose talents as a flamenco dancer are showcased brilliantly, but needs to find greater confidence in his singing.

One of the themes in Strictly Ballroom is the tension between ethnic groups in Australia. This is expressed in the romantic relationship between Fran and Scott, and also in their dance. Their families are depicted in wildly different lights, but both are spirited, joyful and moving. Regretfully, this meaningful and dramatic subject matter is not explored in sufficient depth. The young leads seem too easily accepted by each others’ families, and the penultimate obstacle to their love takes form instead, in the young man’s dilemma about competition dance partners. The opportunity for a more emotive conclusion is sacrificed for one that is more vivacious, but also needlessly frivolous. Ultimately it is the production’s marvelous visual beauty that triumphs, but a three hour show requires more than pleasure for the eyes. It needs to do something for the soul, which discerns the difference between style and substance, and recognises all that glitters is not gold.

www.strictlyballroomthemusical.com