Review of ‘Moulin Rouge’: “Diamonds are this show’s best friend”

The scent of la vie boheme infects the boards of the Picadilly Theatre through the stage adaptation of one of the most popular movie musicals in the last 20 years. Guillermo Nazara reviews the production and new cast of one of West End’s latest jukebox acquisitions, to let us know if this the kind of show you may voulez voir ce soir.

It’s usually said that films are a factory of dreams, but surely the theatre is not behind in production. For years now, the West End has been packed with real life reveries pushing the boundaries of belief, wowing our eyes and infecting our memories through visual spectacle and the oddities of talent. Art for some, plain entertainment for others, the truth is that the variables for creating a good show (more precisely, a quality musical) are vast and often difficult to generalize. Are the sets and effects that important? Can we make an acceptable production without a proper story to be told?

Success does not necessarily align with big value, but if something has defined the London scene is its attempt for the highest of standards. You may hate what you’re watching, but you shouldn’t hate who you’re watching – at least, to some degree… Moulin Rouge has already been around for a while in our beloved theatreland. Taking the advantage (sometimes curse) of the original movie version’s previous success, the production has been one of the most recurrent talks of the town since its opening last year – deemed as the montage everyone should come watch in the season.

The checkpoint formula is thoroughly executed in this one: a love plot set in the decadent romanticism of the French belle epoque (a trick that Phantom already proved right almost four decades ago) combined with the lavishness of a score on this occasion already known to be popular – as the list of songs included (some of them just for a couple of bars) could easily take half of the pages in the entire programme. There’s actually nothing innovative about its narrative (the source material not providing any help for that matter), as their passionate though doomed fate follows almost all the same twists and turns of every other fiction of the sort. In their defense, however, that’s not impeded other works from becoming masterful. But any recounting, nonetheless, needs to be developed to some extent. Moulin Rouge features a clear, well-organized tale, but underachieves at giving it the necessary rythm for its correct development – the ending and lead female character’s arcs feeling too rushed, especially as the second act progresses.

Jukebox musicals are a safe bet for producers (the risks of catastrophe still lingering anyhow, ask The Spice Girls for further education). But no matter how many hits you plan to include, you can never escape the fact that, for a repertoire to work within a musical, it needs to service two crucial elements: storyline and pacing. As for that, Moulin Rouge! does the job quite well, providing us with bits of ravishing theatrical allure while efficiently moving the plot along through every rendition. But for every song to be considered a finalized work, there’s another trait that’s decisive to its proper polishing: structure. And that’s were the show sadly fails to comply, as the excessive use of medleys, studded with too many recognizable tunes, fixate the viewer’s attention more in the form than in the content – on several occasions, getting a bit too distracting.

You may have heard that the show’s splendour lies in its looks and you have not been lied to at all. Very well themed all around the auditorium, the seamlessly shift from the Picadilly Theatre’s turn-of-the=century architectural style to the production’s extravagant opulence is most probably the highest praise of this review. Credit to Derek McLane, the combination of 19th century’s emulated techniques with excellently executed forced perspective landscapes (all filtered through a wash of bohemian nostalgia and picturesque charm) allows the piece to give away quite a few treats to the eyes, at the same level of some of the other montages that have been conquering this district for long, long (loooong) runs now.

As for the cast, counting on newly come leads from last November, Jamie Muscato is the best addition to the burlesque family, exuding natural charisma and temperamental sentiment in his rendition, apart from adequate singing abilities. Next to him, Matt Rixon, as the MC Harold Zidler, steals the show at numerous times, thanks to his contagious appeal and dedicated portrayal of his imposingly flamboyant part. Lastly, Melissa James, interpreting the cabaret performer Satine, is wistfully not the best player in the team, as despite her natural glamour, does not allow us to either connect or see the persona she’s supposed to give life to every night.

Some shows are moving, some others are plain, some lie in between and some may be worth seeing for one single reason. There’s a bunch that may support Moulin Rouge!, though, as the richness of its design (which may not be the grandest I’ve experienced, but surely one of the biggest in offer at the moment) and the acquaintance with its playlist may be (with fair reassurance) more than enough for a night of good fun at the theatre. If glitter and sparkle are the thrills you’re looking for, there’s a blast waiting for you on that stage.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Moulin Rouge plays at London’s Picadilly Theatre from Monday to Saturday. Tickets are available on the following link.

By Guillermo Nazara

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