This can-can saga is too tame: PATRICK MARMION reviews Moulin Rouge!
Downing Street decor aside, this can-can saga is too tame: PATRICK MARMION reviews Moulin Rouge!
Moulin Rouge! (Piccadilly Theatre, London)
Verdict: More rouge, please!
Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor was perhaps best described as a super-massive sugar rush — a Molotov cocktail of music and dance meant to blow your mind.
The West End stage version of Moulin Rouge, which has finally opened at the third attempt, always had its work cut out living up to that legacy.
It may have been a hit on Broadway, but Alex Timbers’s London production, which was repeatedly stymied by Covid over Christmas, needs more crackle.
The story about the fin-de-siècle Parisian nightclub, burns prettily enough, but it doesn’t blaze.
With a plot fusing Cabaret, La Boheme and The Rocky Horror Show — plus a soundtrack stitched together with everything from Talking Heads to Rihanna — it’s extravagant, but never really daring or reckless.
The West End stage version of Moulin Rouge, which has finally opened at the third attempt, always had its work cut out living up to the film’s legacy. Pictured: Liisi LaFontaine as Satine
Nor is the seedy atmosphere of Soho’s neighbouring red-light district allowed to stain Derek McLane’s stunning set design, which reminded me of the PM’s controversially redecorated private rooms at Downing Street.
Imagine Ann Summers lingerie transformed into trompe l’oeil wallpaper.
And a huge blue elephant and neon-lit red windmill (our ‘moulin rouge’) looming either side of the stage, like ancient statuary in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings.
And yet, for all the bombast, the performance that’s meant to blast us with beliefs about beauty, truth, freedom and love boils down to a sexed-up panto, with suitably wooden dialogue by John Logan.
As the nightclub’s star attraction Satine, Liisi LaFontaine is set up as a Beyonce-style love goddess.
This would be a stretch for anyone; but LaFontaine’s performance is driven by costume changes and melodramatic flourishes — including clutching furniture for strength, while belting out Adele- sized agonies.
There’s no doubt the girl can sing (despite the consumption allegedly ravaging her character’s lungs), and she also keeps up with the double-jointed can-can chorus.
But her helter-skelter, train-wreck passion for her beloved Christian barely flickers.
It may have been a hit on Broadway, but Alex Timbers’s London production, which was repeatedly stymied by Covid over Christmas, needs more crackle
As her impoverished inamorato, Jamie Bogyo — a rangy pin-up with flowing curls — looks the part, but feels way too comfortable in the role.
Breezily familiar with the audience, you can see him planning his next move . . . and looking well satisfied by its execution.
Apart from his frame, he may have been cast for his voice which, like LaFontaine’s, switches easily between the show’s mash-up of pop classics.
(Both handle the tricky, shifting register of Elton John’s Your Song — which forms their constant reprise — with aplomb.) But the less we contemplate their improbable relationship, the better.
Simon Bailey could also be nastier as the villainous Duke, who threatens to buy out the club and keep Satine all to himself.
What’s really needed, though, are more company reels, when the spinning tops of the dancers’ rainbow-coloured petticoats stop us taking any of this too seriously. Instead, we get two: one after the interval, the other too late to save the day, at the curtain call.
As a result, some of the best moments come from the supporting characters, including Jason Pennycooke’s lovelorn Toulouse-Lautrec, and Clive Carter as Zidler, the club’s clammy, ageing MC, who adds warmth and camp.
On Press night, there was a bit too much English cricket applause greeting scenes, as song medleys were neatly dispatched for four. What we want is to be knocked for six.
The title needs to earn its exclamation mark. Without that abandon, it’s a spectacle that, to me at least, is insufficiently disreputable.
Thrilled by chamber of horrors musical
Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story (Jermyn St Theatre)
Verdict: A chilling killing
By Georgina Brown
Should you think that killing is not something to sing about, Stephen Dolginoff’s chamber-of-horrors musical may change your mind.
For this compelling two-hander is based on the so-called ‘crime of the [20th] century’: the kidnap and murder in Chicago in 1924 of 14-year-old Bobby Franks, the inspiration for Patrick Hamilton’s 1929 play, Rope, and then Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie.
Unravelling in flashback from the point at which Nathan Leopold, having served 33 years, is up for parole, Dolginoff tightens the focus on the twisted, transactional relationship between this suggestible infatuated teenager and his fellow law student, Richard Loeb.
Should you think that killing is not something to sing about, Stephen Dolginoff’s chamber-of-horrors musical may change your mind
Murder is Loeb’s idea. Both boys are super-rich and super-clever, but Loeb believes they can become Friedrich Nietzsche-style ‘supermen’, and to prove it he attempts to design and execute the perfect, motiveless crime.
Just as Jack Reitman’s charismatic, crushing Loeb (‘You’re not fit to lick my wingtip shoes’) is in psychological thrall to Nietzsche, so needy obsessive Leopold is in sexual thrall to this sophisticated sadist and they sign a contract in blood.
‘His friendship was necessary to me. I would do whatever he asked,’ says Bart Lambert’s Leopold.
Dolginoff’s throbbing, urgent score, superbly played by pianist Benjamin McQuigg, both creates and propels the intense emotional subtext for Loeb’s nerveless, intellectual exercise.
Most disconcerting is Loeb’s enticement to get Bobby into his car — ‘I know, never talk to strangers… You’ll be safe inside my Roadster’ — sung with such sweetness it is not surprising little Bobby jumped aboard.
Up close as can be in this tiny space, Matthew Parker’s concentrated revival sounds every tone of this undeniably thrilling, chilling killing.
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