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Review: Moulin Rouge (Piccadilly Theatre)

One of the most hotly anticipated new West End shows finally opened this week after a turbulent journey. Originally due to open in 2020, Moulin Rouge was delayed a year due to the pandemic but faced further disruption even after it began previews, having to pause the run due to cast sickness and delaying the planned official opening night not once but twice. The show really must go on come what may and Moulin Rouge is a testament to that - having flown Broadway cast members over recently to ensure performances went ahead. They didn't even let a lengthy show stop in the middle of one of the new press nights phase them. And now, after all of that, we can finally say Moulin Rouge is open for business. But was it worth the wait?


Photo credit: Matt Crockett

Based on the 2001 movie from Baz Luhrmann, the musical adaptation of Moulin Rouge opened on Broadway in 2019, winning 10 Tony awards. It tells the story of an American writer who falls in love with the sparking diamond who is the star of the club with several twists ensuring it's no smooth ride. Telling the truth, the plot may be a tad on the thin side. However, the glamorous backdrop of Paris in 1899 more than makes up for any perceived shortcomings. The real beauty in this production is in the sets. With no expense spared, it is a visual spectacular - a true feast for the eyes. Given the freedom to completely transform the Piccadilly Theatre, the gorgeous design from Derek McLane extends past the lavish stage, reaching the furthest corners of the theatre. The attention to detail is exquisite and creates an immersive atmosphere, leaving you feeling you are at the actual Moulin Rouge nightclub. There really is nothing like being greeted by the sight of a giant blue elephant and a windmill as you take your seat.


Photo credit: Johan Persson


While the initial staging may be breathtaking, it doesn't let up over the next couple of hours, with some truly beautiful set changes. Lighting design from Justin Towsend bathes the cast and glamorous sets in gorgeous style, while costume design from Catherine Zuber ensures the cast always look suitably fabulous.

The cast are all quite simply sensational. Clive Carter travels from Newfoundland to Paris to deliver a charismatic and captivating Harold Zidler, flirting with the cast and audience accordingly. Simon Bailey gives a standout turn as The Duke, clearly loving the chance to play a villain while Elia Lo Tauro and Jason Pennycooke delight as Bohemians Santiago and Toulouse-Lautrec.


Photo credit: Johan Persson

Making his professional debut in the lead role of Christian is Jamie Bogyo. Showing some fine acting and a stunning voice, he makes an impressionable debut in what is sure to be a glittering career. Descending from the Heavens like the Goddess she is, Liisi LaFontaine makes her long awaited return to the West End as Satine. A powerhouse performer, she oozes star quality and perfectly encapsulates the sparkling diamond she is portraying.


The cast are completed by an incredible ensemble that keep the action going both on and off stage, prowling around the theatre before the main show has even started, they really are a testament to the true talent of performers. They include Zoe Birkett, Johnny Bishop, Timmika Ramsay and Sophie Carmen-Jones who get the party started with the iconic 'Lady Marmalade'.


Photo credit: Matt Crockett


Let's talk about the music. A jukebox musical full of classic and contemporary hits from artists as diverse as Adele, Outkast and Nat King Cole. What Moulin Rouge does exceptionally well is reinvent these songs we know and love, often in the forms of medleys. 'Crazy Rolling' mashes up Gnarls Barkley and Adele in a stroke of genius while 'Sympathy For The Duke' . Another brilliant reinvention is the choice to have Simon Bailey's Duke take on Rihanna's 'Only Girl'.


Some memorable musical moments from the movie remain including a stunning take on Elton John's 'Your Song' while the original song from the film 'Come What May' is a real standout moment, proving to be one of the greatest songs performed on a West End stage. Liisi shows off her stunning vocals with 'Firework' while Jason Pennycooke getting an undeniable highlight of the evening with his spine-tingling rendition of 'Nature Boy'.


Photo credit: Johan Persson


Some of the sequences throughout Moulin Rouge are pretty jawdropping. A take on Sia's 'Chandelier' featuring "The Green Fairy" provides an undoubtable highlight of the evening, while 'Backstage Romance' builds and builds in spectacular fashion in what I believe could be the single greatest act two opening number I have ever seen while act one closer 'Elephant Love Medley' is ultimately satisfying, leaving you gasping for breath in the way it shoehorns in close to 20 songs in an amazingly coherent fashion.


Ultimately, Moulin Rouge is theatre at its finest. Pure immersive escapism. While the story may seem simplistic, it carries a charm that allows you to get to know and fall in love with the characters in a way that is sure to leave you emotional as the story draws to a close. Boasting an incredible cast tackling some truly iconic songs, how could you fail to love this show? What really elevates Moulin Rouge beyond your average show is the elaborate and exceptional staging. The best set design in the West End, Moulin Rouge is as beautiful as theatre gets.


Photo credit: Matt Crockett


Ticking all the boxes, this is surely the best night out in the West End you will ever have. Get yourself a ticket if you can can can.


★★★★★


Moulin Rouge plays at the Piccadilly Theatre. Tickets from www.moulinrougemusical.com


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