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  • Writer's pictureBecky Wallis

Moulin Rouge - London Review

Updated: Apr 28, 2022

After opening on Broadway in 2019, Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge was one of the most hotly anticipated West End transfers around and after a number of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, it finally opened late last year at London’s Piccadilly Theatre. It would appear that the delays only fuelled the excitement further as the show became the hottest ticket in town before it even opened. After being affected by a number of Omicron enforced cancellations, I was lucky enough to catch a preview performance back in December last year and now that the show has finally been able to go ahead with its press night, I can finally talk about it.

Due to Covid enforced absences, a number of understudies stepped up to save the day, including Adam Gillian in the role of Christian, Tanisha Spring as Satine, and Jon Tsouras as the Duke. The Piccadilly theatre has been through a massive renovation to bring this show to life, with the entire auditorium draped in red and sparkles, with an elephant and a tribute to the iconic windmill taking up residence in the boxes. In this space, Moulin Rouge is more than a show, it’s an experience.

Moulin Rouge tells the story of young composer Christian (Adam Gillian), who with friends Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Jason Pennycooke) and Santiago (Elia Lo Tauro) sets out to stage a new musical at the famous Moulin Rouge cabaret club. But with the club struggling financially, manager Harold Zidler (Clive Carter) has set his sights on gaining the aid of the wealthy Duke (played here by Jon Tsouras) by setting him up with star of the show, the sparkling diamond Satine (Tanisha Spring). When a case of mistaken identity leads to romance for Christian and Satine, the lines between fiction and reality become blurred.

The show begins before the official start time, with performers making their way through the audience and turning the stage effectively into a catwalk as they show off Catherine Zuber’s incredible costumes with grace and style. The production oozes class whilst encapsulating the grit and burlesque that the Moulin Rouge is famous for. It is very much an ensemble piece, with the large cast performing some of the most complex and high energy dance numbers that I have ever seen on a west end stage. The lengthy medley numbers are made to look easy by these talented performers who jump from scene to scene through quick costume and character changes.

Adam Gillian’s Christian is heartfelt and passionate, dedicated both to his work and to Satine. The character’s sometime overbearing passion could be seen as his downfall, but Gillian makes the character likable, and you find yourself willing him on to succeed. As the sparkling diamond Satine, star of the Moulin Rouge show, Tanisha Spring shines. It is a complex character who experiences a rollercoaster of emotions throughout the performance. She is a person who, whilst she does want the success for herself, she is willing to put herself through an awful lot to help others, be that helping Christian, Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago with their show or helping Zidler to get the much-needed funds for the club, both of which take her having to deal with the wealth obsessed and cold-hearted Duke. At this performance the role of the duke was played by Jon Tsouras, and as the piece’s villain, he is the character that you just love to hate. He is boastful, smarmy, and stubborn, using his money and his position in society to weasel his way to getting whatever he wants, and Tsouras’ performance brings all of that to life.

Clive Carter is larger than life as Harold Zidler, both the showman running the Moulin Rouge and the loving father figure to Satine. As Toulouse-Lautrec and Santiago respectively Jason Pennycooke and Elia Lo Tauro are a comical double act who can turn on a sixpence to pack an emotional punch. I have watched the film in the past, but it was quite a long time ago, so I felt that I was going into this production mostly blind to the ins and outs of the story. Surrounded by the glitz and glamour of the décor, the lavish costumes and the barrage of song and dance numbers, you are fully drawn into the story with its twists and turns, tales of romance and the ups and downs of showbusiness.

This is a show absolutely crammed full of music, and whilst the official cast recording may only include 19 musical numbers (which is still rather a lot for a show), the performance actually encompasses 70 songs from popular music, including some released after the original 2001 film. From Lady Gaga, The Rolling Stones, The Police, The Beatles and Florence and the machine to The White Stripes, Lorde, Elvis and Outkast, the song list is extensive and full of familiar tunes. And whilst it was wonderful to hear so many different songs in many different styles performed by this effortlessly talented cast, the numerous medleys meant that just has you were really getting into one song, it suddenly changes to another and at points you find yourself wishing that you could hear the songs performed in full. Nevertheless, the songs fit seamlessly into the story throughout.

Moulin Rouge stays true to the claims that it is a spectacular spectacular as from start to end, it is a whirlwind experience. In a way, I suppose, due to the sheer number of songs that are included and the fact that it actually only has one original song (The pitch song), you could say that this production is in fact that world’s most extravagant jukebox musical, bombarding the audience with song after song until the incredible finale that leaves you grinning like the Cheshire cat. It really isn’t a surprise that Moulin Rouge is the one of the hottest tickets in theatre land right now.

Please note that the images in this review feature Jamie Bogyo, Liisi LaFontaine and Simon Bailey as Christian, Satine and the duke, not the performers I saw on December 14th.

You can purchase tickets to Moulin Rouge here

Images found via Google, not my own

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