Moulin Rouge! at the West End: A visually captivating 2000s jukebox

Let me see that again! But don't let me hear it!
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The Piccadilly Theatre has traded its gold shimmer for deep red velvets and dazzling chandeliers. The director, Alex Timbers, borrows styles from Burlesque, Vaudeville, and Immersive Theatre to bring the stage adaptation of Moulin Rogue! to life. The amalgamation of these exaggerated styles delights and shocks as the audience take their seats, actors in elaborate costuming lean out of cages, smoking drags from comically large cigarettes, and entering dramatically to display the costuming of the Moulin Rogue performers.

To this, I must praise the musical. The costuming and sets that replicate the film on an almost unbelievable level hold a suspension of disbelief all to their own. Without the audience or actors, I can imagine even just leaving the theatre to speak for itself would produce the environment of the infamous 1920s club.

The cast have to be admired for their ability to perform. I think you can find actors who simply act, and actors who become one with the thrill of being at the theatre, and here we see the latter. While, as lots of comedic musicals can, there are moments where particular actors fall into the overdramatised category, they still shine with their ability to hit punchlines, contort their bodies and give effortless seeming performances.

This lavish build-up held nothing to the flapping multicoloured skirts, confetti from every angle, vibrant chaos that opened the musical, with a song so overloaded in senses it becomes a little impossible to even hear your own opinions. The spectacle of this production is a salute to the art of theatre-making itself, celebrating the community that becomes of musical theatre and bringing the audience into this sweet escape of becoming apart of something bigger than themselves. For that reason this musical, and let’s be fair the joy of seeing something on the west end, becomes alight with the joy of the people around you, with you, experiencing it. Though that may just be me as a theatre lover.

Despite all the enjoyment I had, the musical lost me completely during certain updated songs which where so comically misplaced and out of tune with the plot that it was with great effort I didn’t physically cringe away from the stage. The balladisation of Katy Perry’s Firework (yes, I wish I was kidding), in an attempt to modernise and amplify the musical, infiltrates the original score. This pantomime element of early 2000s pop takes so much of the heart from the story and is severely overdone. In saying that, some of these songs provided humorous jumping points and the first act was crowded with comedy and spectacle, until the second act where we enter a much darker and poorly executed tragedy amongst the soundtrack of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep or Sia’s Chandelier, which speak for themselves in terms of their placement in musical theatre.

Beyond this, the raucous, spirited, dynamic musical stuns and compels, creating an atmosphere and visual experience second to none. However, if the original score is so brilliant, there probably isn’t a need to cover it in overplayed radio 2000s pop hits. Moulin Rogue! is what a West End performance should look like, but I’m not so sure that this is what it should sound like.


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