Global Creatures are no strangers to theatrical spectacle on a massive scale – they are after all the company behind Walking With Dinosaurs, How To Train Your Dragon, King Kong and the Australian production of Warhorse – each of them a visual and technical marvel in their own right. In recent years, Global Creatures have turned their hand to more conventional musical theatre fare, with original productions of Strictly Ballroom and Muriel’s Wedding. Their most recent production, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, is based on the 2001 film by Baz Luhrmann – and like its cinematic counterpart, it’s a mind-blowing visual feast.
Opening on Broadway in 2019, Moulin Rouge! The Musical, swept all before it at the Tony Awards, winning Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical, Best Choreography and multiple awards for the set, costume and lighting design. This Australian production premiered in 2021 at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre, but the original season had to be cut short due to COVID. The show was hastily forced to leave the city in order to beat the impending border closures, before continuing on its Australian Tour. Now in 2023, they’re back in Melbourne to finish what they started.
Moulin Rouge! The Musical closely follows the storyline of the film, which itself draws on various classic love stories including the Greek tragedy, Orpheus and Eurydice, and of course, La bohème. This stage version also draws heavily on the film’s sumptuous aesthetic, and designers Derek McLane (Scenic Design) and Catherine Zuber (Costume Design) have seized the opportunity to create an immersive design, oozing sultry Parisian decadence and dripping with fin de siècle glamour. Melbourne’s gorgeous Regent Theatre could hardly be a more perfect canvas.
The soundtrack for this jukebox musical boasts over 70 songs – which frankly felt like way too many. The first half in particular is a frustrating, frenetic blur of sound, with the final medley (‘Elephant Love Medley’) containing a head-spinning mashup of no less than 21 different songs, spliced together and overlapping each other. From a technical perspective, it’s very clever (I guess), but as an accompaniment to the action on stage, it was about as much fun as watching someone flipping channels on the TV, and largely devoid of any genuine emotional connection with the performers. Thankfully the second half provided some aural respite – the music is given room to breathe and actually works with the action on stage rather than against it, and as a consequence the characters and story come to the fore.
While the visual spectacle is genuinely outstanding, the performances are a little uneven. Des Flanagan is excellent as the ambitious love-struck song-writer Christian, with a voice that consistently impresses. Flanagan, along with the ever versatile Bert Labonté as Toulouse-Lautrec, provides the real emotional core of the show. Alinta Chidzey as Satine, the worldly courtesan with a heart of gold, was less consistent, occasionally struggling with the lower registers. The chemistry between her and Flanagan was not always entirely convincing. Veteran performer Simon Burke AO is clearly enjoying himself and gives a generally strong performance as the shady club owner Harold Zidler. While James Bryers in the role of The Duke doesn’t quite command the stage as thoroughly as we are led to believe the character should.
Despite these minor misgivings, the spectacle is truly spectacular and the show has an undeniable energy that will no doubt win over many fans.
Global Creatures presents
Moulin Rouge! The Musical
book John Logan | based on the film directed by Baz Luhrmann and written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce
Director Alex Timbers
Venue: Regent Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: currently on sale until 31 Dec 2023. Check the website for updates