Review: Moulin Rouge, Piccadilly Theatre

I should have stuck to my instincts to avoid Moulin Rouge, it really didn’t do it for me at all

“You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs”

You’d also think that I’d’ve learned to stick with my instincts by now. Through the torturous trickiness of trying to open a show mid-lockdowns, I was never actually really tempted by the prospect of seeing Moulin Rouge in any case, but the offer of a reasonable ticket and a cocktail or three got me out to the Piccadilly Theatre, which has been impressively gussied up to transport us to Montmartre and there’s no two ways about it, the show is visually stunning.

Derek McLane’s sets are dizzyingly inventive, as giant windmills and elephants look on, and the rich exuberance of Catherine Zuber’s costumes is something spectacular. Throw in the kinetic energy of Sonya Tayeh’s choreography and a fiercely talented ensemble and you’re given several moments of breathtaking musical theatre – Alex Timber’s direction is along the lines of more more more and in some ways, it delivers on West End spectacle (and at these prices, it really should).

But I found the show itself to be shockingly weak. I don’t think anyone was watching Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film for the plot but John Logan’s (John Logan!) adaptation is frustratingly done, streamlining the messiness that characterised the bohemian living of this group and for some reason, does Satine dirty by no longer having her have acting aspirations. There’s barely any real character work going on and thus little chemistry to engage us while we wait for the next glitter cannon to be loaded. 

As is often the case with adaptations of films with iconic soundtracks, the updating of the score here also sat wrongly with me. An early exponent of the jukebox form, the carefully crafted mashups were revelatory at the time but following the ethos of more more more, the additions of any and every pop song someone thought of at that moment feel slapdash and sometime careless, too often pulling focus as you just go ‘huh, Katy Perry right now, really?’ (no slight on Ms Perry at all).

Jamie Muscato and Melissa James lead the cast with undoubted skill to be sure, Muscato’s takeover as Christian was one of the reasons for me changing my mind, but they’re dwarfed by a production that doesn’t really care about them and a book that definitely doesn’t. That said, the theatre was packed with people having a much better time than me, and ticket sales look healthy for the months ahead, so it is obviously hitting the mark for many. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Moulin Rouge is booking at the Piccadilly Theatre until 3rd June

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