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Review: MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL, Piccadilly Theatre

In a world of musical mash-ups, hedonism and glitter there's little space for emotion.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Moulin Rouge! The MusicalThere can be few shows that have been quite so pushed from pillar to post by Covid. The West End version of Moulin Rouge! The Musical has stuttered, started and stopped a dizzying number of times. After winning 10 Tony awards on Broadway, the long-awaited adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's extravagant 2001 film is now officially open at a red velvet-swathed Piccadilly Theatre in a blaze of sparkle and light.

We meet Christian, an impoverished songwriter who comes to bohemian Paris to get inspiration. He then meets Satine, a consumption-stricken headliner at the Moulin Rouge, who must charm the Duke of Monroth in order to save the club. What follows is mistaken identity and betrayal with an old-fashioned love story at its heart.

Liisi LaFontaine, last seen on the London stage as Deena in Dreamgirls, brings heart and confidence to the role of Satine. Her powerful vocals have great clarity, particularly in her passionate rendition of Katy Perry's "Firework". Despite stories of a feminist update, Satine remains a pawn for men to control, rather than LaFontaine being able to give her any agency or fire.

Jamie Bogyo makes an impressive stage debut as the charmingly innocent and floppy-haired Christian. It is a shame there is a lack of chemistry between him and LaFontaine, mainly because it is not given enough time to truly develop.

Simon Bailey has swagger and menace as the cartoonish villain, the Duke of Monroth and Cliver Carter is camply entertaining as Zidler. Elia Lo Tauro and Sophie Carmen-Jones are a brilliantly sensual partnership as Santiago and dancer Nini.

Jason Pennycooke has the most complexity to his character as an emotional and sensitive Toulouse-Lautrec. His duet with Christian of "Nature Boy" is a touching moment of quiet reflection in a production of almost dizzying busyness.

Director Alex Timbers has created a world where anything seems possible; poverty is romantic, talent can win out over adversity and the frantic energy of the film is well-captured, with an hedonistic and febrile atmosphere.

With "Lady Marmalade" used an opening crowd-pleaser, the music retains the recognisable songs from the film, along with fragments of many, many others, arranged and orchestrated by Justin Levine. Just as you start to recognise a chord or verse, the music shifts to something else. This has a slightly giddying effect, but also has moments of brilliance; the second act opener, which brings together "Bad Romance" as an Argentine tango, morphing into snippets of tracks including "Seven Nation Army" and "Toxic", is breathtaking.

It is certainly clever, but it often undermines the emotional heft and sincerity of what is happening on stage; there is no time for sentiment or depth of story when there's yet another mash-up to perform. Satine's death is strangely underwhelming, when it should be the central gut-punch of the show.

The production looks incredible; lush, luxurious and incredibly opulent. Montmartre has never looked so polished; cloaked in red velvet with glittering chandeliers, a huge blue elephant, the famous windmill and neon Moulin Rouge sign. Catherine Zuber's incredibly detailed costumes have all the feathers, fishnets and flamboyance you could wish for.

Choreographer Sonya Tayeh's work is captivating and the thrilling routines show off the jaw-dropping energy of the whole cast. Huge credit must also go to Justin Townsend's electrifying lighting design, which directs the eye of the audience with beautiful use of sumptuous colours. One of the most captivating scenes is the stripped-down darkness where The Police's "Roxanne" is performed with perfectly placed spotlights and red flashes.

Vivid, bold and immersive, Moulin Rouge! The Musical is an incredibly entertaining visual spectacular, it just misses the mark on giving an emotional hit.

Moulin Rouge! The Musical is booking the Piccadilly Theatre until 23rd July

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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