Review: MOULIN ROUGE at Chateau Neuf

Yes! They Can Can Can!

By: Nov. 17, 2023
Review: MOULIN ROUGE at Chateau Neuf

First on a personal note; This review is based on three performances. The reason I had to see it three times is due to health-related issues I have been struggling with for the past six months, and I fell ill on two of the three performances. Both illness attacks happened during act one, and I am sure it was not caused by the what the performers did, hehe. But this did make it hard to focus, so because of that I watched it three times. Now for the review.

Review: MOULIN ROUGE at Chateau Neuf For those who revel in the nightlife, take note that the Chateau Neuf has undergone a lavish transformation into a pleasure palace where indulgence reigns without the consequences of hangovers. It is within this opulent setting that the exhilarating "Moulin Rouge! The Musical" premiered on the 30th of August, showering the audience with glittering fragments reminiscent of every pop hit ever written. Directed with cunning flair by Anders Albien and Mattias Carlsson, this interpretation of "Moulin Rouge" is a soaring, natural high of a production. It comes with side effects, including the dizziness induced by the tickling of nostalgic memories of past songs and a temporary suspension of any aversion to jukebox musicals.

However, for its plump and sleek two-and-a-half-hour runtime, "Moulin Rouge," featuring the outstanding Heidi Ruud Ellingsen, along with renowned singer/songwriter, but also musical theatre newcomer, Sondre Lerche and Anders Baasmo delivering his finest musical performance to date, exuding the feverish energy reminiscent of wild parties from youth, where vibrant nights seemed endless.

Alternatively, it encapsulates the memory of those parties, melded into a streamlined fantasy. The creative team behind "Moulin Rouge," including designer Takis and choreographers Jennie Widegren and Kirsty McDonald, understands that familiar music has the power to unlock recollections like few other stimuli.

Review: MOULIN ROUGE at Chateau Neuf

Set in fin de siècle Paris, "Moulin Rouge" employs a score comprising around 70 songs, most of them chart-toppers from recent decades. These songs, delving into the extreme emotions of love and lust, likely played a role in the soundtrack of many romantic histories—music that accompanied falling in love, making love, and falling out of love.

Baz Luhrmann's inspired idea was that this music serves our age similarly to how grand opera arias served an earlier time. While the film "Moulin Rouge" infused a verismo-style, gaslight-era plot with melodic anachronisms, the stage version retains most of these, incorporating even more, often used in snippets or mash-ups.

Simultaneously, Albien’s production, with a strategically clichéd book by John Logan, (done in Norwegian by the very talented Teodor Jansson) translates the cinematic illusions into the grit and greasepaint of live theater. It embraces the outdated notion of show people as akin to panderers and prostitutes, emphasizing the transactional relationship between live entertainers and their audiences.

Upon entering Chateau Neuf, the theme of love for sale is immediately evident. The dazzling nightclub set, designed by Takis, is a breathtaking nest of gold painted art nouveau staircases, red curtains, and oversized hand painted stage curtain, bathed in shades of pink and red. The cast, dressed sumptuously by Astrid Lynge Ottosen, includes sexy dressed men and women, men in top hats and tails, and a splendidly seedy master of ceremonies, Harold Zidler, played with flair by Ander Baasmo.

In contrast, the open-faced and virginal Christian, played by Sondre Lerche, recalls a cherished chapter of his life. Christian's object of adoration is Satine, a nightclub chanteuse portrayed with depth and polish by Heidi Ruud Ellingsen. Satine is a performance that once again prove that her star in the great musical heaven shines as strong as it ever did, exudes palpable flesh, concealing illness and a hard-lived life. As Satine, Ellingsen delivers a captivating performance, singing a medley of iconic songs like "Diamonds Are Forever," "Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend," "Material Girl," and "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)" with a delightful blend of trickery and charm.

Sondre Lerche, with his wide-eyed exuberance and gleaming voice, covers the 'gee-whiz' part of the equation. It is sadly evident that he lacks acting experience, and this becomes a major flaw in an otherwise flawless production. But as a result of seeing the show three times this last few months, he has grown more comfortable in the part, but this issue should have been dealt with during rehearsals. It feels like someone has told him that he just needs to “be himself” on stage, but as anyone with acting experience will tell you; this is virtually harder to pull off than creating a character. But he is always supported by lively sidekicks, the Argentine tango dancer Santiago (Modou Bah) and the painter and show-within-the-show director Toulouse-Lautrec (Jan Martin Johnsen). With them at his side Christian's romantic journey unfolds. It must be said that the most genuine performance of the evening is Johnsen’s rendition of Nature Boy, beautifully sung and acted. Toulouse-Lautrec is the real “heart” of the musical.

As Christian's romantic rival, the Duke of Monroth, Hans Marius Hoff Mittet adds a suave and menacing presence, introducing himself to Satine with a rendition of "Sympathy for the Devil." The radio wallpaper of familiar songs has been repurposed with personal passion, ensuring that performances of Katy Perry's "Firework" or Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" are far from karaoke throwaways.

Jennie Widegren’s choreography, executed by a versatile ensemble, is a perpetual motion machine of bruising sensuality. Standard period fare like the cancan and La Danse Apache is reinterpreted with electric wit. Act II features a showstopper led by Modou Bah and Kirsty McDonald, blending Lady Gaga’s "Bad Romance" and Britney Spears’s "Toxic." This is hands down one of the best performances I have ever seen on the Chateau Neuf stage.

While it is not the multimillion production presented on Broadway, this version of Moulin Rouge fells more real, and the simple effective scenic design by Takis, use many clever tricks to portray botht the glitz and glamour on stage and worn-down contrast off stage. This design is a game changer on Chateau Neuf, and with the help of the ever evolving LED technology sky is the limit.

"Moulin Rouge" unabashedly revels in impure temptations, offering pure escapism. It presents a world where everything is permitted and forgiven in the name of love, where Bohemian poverty is picturesque, and stardom is within reach for the gifted and hungry. Even songs you thought you never wanted to hear again pulse with irresistible new sex appeal.

Review: MOULIN ROUGE at Chateau Neuf

In contrast to "Cabaret," where life is portrayed as beautiful but ultimately heedless, "Moulin Rouge" immerses its audience in a world where life is genuinely beautiful, unlike reality. All is allowed and forgiven in the pursuit of love, making Bohemian poverty picturesque, and even forgotten songs regain irresistible new sex appeal. This emporium of impure temptations is, at its core, selling pure escapism, but you'll surely feel no regret.

All pictures by Fredrik Arff

Moulin Rouge

Chateau Neuf

Book John Logan
Based on the 2001 motion picture, produced by Twentieth Century Fox, written by Baz Luhrman and Craig Pierce, directed by Baz LuhrmanMusic arrangements, orchestration, dance arrangements, additional music and text Justin Levine
Director Anders Albien
Set design Takis
Costume designer Astrid Lynge Ottosen
Musical director Joakim Pedersen
Coordinator Bjørn Heiseldal
Choreographers Anja Gaardbo, Jennie Widegren/Zain Odelstål, Kirsty McDonald

Norwegian production:
Director Mathias Carlsson
Conductor Petter Kragstad
Sound design Erik Valderhaug
Lighting design Palle Palme
Presented by Taran AS by producer Tor Arne Ranghus
Starring Anders Baasmo, Sondre Lerche, Heidi Ruud Ellingsen, Hans Marius Hoff Mittet, Jan Martin Johnsen, Modou Bah, Kirsty McDonald, Anna-Lisa Kumoji, and others.
Dancers, singers, orchestra