By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: ***
WHEN?: Saturday 1 January 2022, opens 20 January, booking to 28 May 2022
Garlanded with 10 Tonys in 2020 and based on Baz Luhrmann’s brilliant 2001 film, this jukebox musical focuses on the spectacle of the story of a visitor to Paris in 1899 who falls in love with a performer at the titular club at the expense of the tale’s romance.
- Read on for reasons including how this is a feast for the eyes rather than the ears
There’s a pianist playing show tunes in the Royal Circle bar of the Piccadilly Theatre before curtain up and there’s a windmill and blue elephant in the auditorium to remind how this story pits the bohemian ideals of ‘truth, beauty, freedom and love’ against wealth.
We’re in the Montmartre Quarter of Paris joining Christian who is arriving here from England and his fellow bohemians as they visit the Moulin Rouge club and meet the money-obsessed Duke and the singer Satine.
We know the Duke is in thrall to cash because at 1 point he sings a snatch of the Flying Lizards’ song Money (That’s What I Want) and fans of the original film will remember that it mixed new songs and well-known covers.
It’s this focus of the musical with songs mashed up together to embellish the action like an episode of TV’s magnificent Glee taken to the absolute max that we thought both dated the musical and made it feel like a bit of a mess with so many different covers shoe-horned into the action.
When you’ve a song as good as Elton John’s career-defining Your Song as your emotional heartbeat it just felt a little too much to be throwing the kitchen sink at it also by incorporating so many other snippets of well-known hits.
We might have felt a little more charitably if leads Jamie Bogyo, making his professional debut, and Liisi Lafontaine had the charisma of Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman from the film but we never felt the spark of their attraction.
Lafontaine as Satine does get to make a dramatic and acrobatic entrance but, while Simon Bailey’s dastardly Duke did make us root for Bogyo’s Christian, the forbidden love story which should be the beating heart of the plot seemed to be sacrificed on the musical’s tickbox altar of songs by artists you didn’t expect to hear but do.
Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, Adele’s Rolling In The Deep and a-Ha’s Take On Me are all individually fantastic pop songs but their use here seemed to have little to do with advancing the plot and more to do with trying to please as many people as possible, always a thankless task.
Like the film, there is some original material tailored to the story and it was largely forgettable other than the pivotal Come What May which remains from the film.
Lady Marmalade appears too and we would have loved to have seen more of Zoe (Pop Idol) Birkett’s Arabia who along with Jason Pennycooke’s Toulouse-Lautrec was stand-out.
While we weren’t expecting to be required to do too much thinking through the show we were surprised by how almost the entire focus was on surface, how it looked, rather than what, if anything, it was trying to say.
ATG’s other big show at the moment is Cabaret across town at the Playhouse which is incredibly powerful, provocative and political and as a piece of theatre that succeeds in so many of the ways that Moulin Rouge attempts but fails to.