Tag Archives: Simon Bailey

Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

★★★

Piccadilly Theatre

Moulin Rouge!

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Piccadilly Theatre

Reviewed – 20th January 2022

★★★

 

“this would make a really fun proper knees-up sing-along if that’s the direction they wanted to go in”

 

When Moulin Rouge was released in 2001 it put its very best foot forward with an absolute dream team of Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce, Craig Armstrong, Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, John Leguizamo, and Richard Roxburgh to name a few. For goodness sake, even Kylie Minogue featured for a second (“I’m a green fairy!”) Not only that, but it apparently took Luhrmann over two years to gain the rights to the most carefully curated track list, featuring some of the biggest songs of the century. So, with all that in mind, Moulin Rouge: The Musical faces a tremendous amount of pressure. How on earth could you make a version of a Baz Luhrmann production and make it better, even make it just as good?

Filing into the theatre, the staging already promises a lot, with tens of floor-to-ceiling light-encrusted ruby red hearts sitting nestled within one another; an enormous adorned elephant bedecks the royal box, and opposite, the iconic windmill spinning lazily. Emblazoned in bright lights across the front of the stage, ‘MOULIN ROUGE’. As the audience shuffles past one another, holding plastic cups of wine, taking off their giant winter coats and shoving them under their chairs, dancers move in seductive slow-motion across the stage and around the front rows, in encrusted velvet corsets and top hats, crescendoing with two low-key sword swallowers before its even begun. It’s all very alluring, and the first song, ‘Lady Marmalade’ is the perfect smutty number to introduce us properly, filthy-sexy and so much fun.

But as the play unfolds, unfortunately it doesn’t quite keep up, with some songs merely echoing the film’s outrageous performances, and others bizarrely saccharine or, quite frankly, just not good enough.

It’s a strange beast in that it doesn’t quite know what it is. On the one hand, Derek McLane’s gloriously over-the-top, no-holds-barred stage design, and Catherine Zuber’s saucy, sexy, sometimes lurid, sometimes lavish costumes are the stuff of the very highest production value. On the other hand, there’s something disturbingly panto about some of the performances, the leads feel a bit- dare I say it- Disney in their wholesome asexual chemistry, and the additional songs not included in the movie are presented like a sing-along; rather than being cleverly and carefully chosen and then moulded to suit the story’s palette, they seem to clash. In the second half, for example, the morning after Satine has had to break Christian’s heart and pretend she doesn’t love him because otherwise the Duke’s going to have him murdered; it’s a pretty tense and heavy moment. Christian starts singing Adele’s ‘Rolling in the Deep’ with all the melodrama of a fourteen-year-old Glee member, and the audience takes their cue and joins in! Not only are they clapping along, they’re bloody singing! At near on the saddest part of the whole story.

That’s not to say there aren’t flashes of flamboyant ecstasy: Clive Carter’s Harold Zidler, despite doing a sort of impression of Jim Broadbent’s performance, is delightfully sinister and scornful, and contributes a slightly different flavour to the complicated character.

The end of the Elephant Medley is pretty spectacular, Satine’s room spinning to reveal a starlit night sky, the Eiffel tower being rolled on by eight extra dancers, and quick sparkling costume changes for both leads as they climb the miniature landmark. Two aerialists spin elegantly from the ceiling as Satine and Christian sing the last high notes together, “How wonderful life is now you’re in the world”, and the chorus stares lovingly on. It’s just so ridiculously excessive, I love it.

I think this would make a really fun proper knees-up sing-along if that’s the direction they wanted to go in; a great night out with the girls, belting ‘Baby you’re a firework’ and ‘Single Ladies’.

Alternatively, it could do what it looks like it should and be properly debaucherous and depraved, and the subject handled with a lot more grit and seriousness. I don’t want to hear Satine saying “I can’t go back to the streets!” and Christian responding with a fatuous “Then come with me to the stars!” Dude, she’s talking about a life of prostitution and homelessness. What are you talking about??

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Matt Crockett

 


Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Piccadilly Theatre until May 2022

 

 

 

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Heathers

Heathers

★★★

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Heathers

Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Reviewed – 12th July 2021

★★★

 

“a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece”

 

I approach “Heathers the Musical” somewhat as an outsider. In a seemingly packed, though socially distanced auditorium, I am detached from the majority of the audience. Although I am hoping to be drawn in, and accepted. Based on the eighties’ movie, which originally flopped only to become a cult; the musical rapidly became a cult in its own right while skipping the pre-requisite critical rejection that qualifies its status. What marks this production out from the start is the enthusiasm with which it is presented and received. Everything about it is heightened and it often feels like you are in a cartoon.

Set very specifically in 1989, it adopts the high school setting so popular at the time, but twists the genre into something much darker. It reaches further than the typical subject matter of peer pressure and rebellion and attempts to grapple with teenage suicide and the fatal attraction of belonging to a clique. The clique in question is a trio of girls, all called Heather, who hold sway with a swagger that pushes credibility to the limit. For reasons governed by plot clichés, the protagonist – Veronica – is desperate to run with this pack. To say that she eventually outruns them is no spoiler; we can all see it coming as visibly as the love interest side-line.

What rescues the storyline are the quirks, the shocks and body-count that we don’t anticipate. And the oddball minor characters that outshine the leads in most cases. Andy Fickman’s production is a shouty affair that drowns out much of the tragedy, truth and trauma running through the heart of the piece. The more successful moments are when the volume gets turned down and the irony and sporadic subversiveness is allowed to be heard.

Christina Bennington is in fine voice as Veronica, torn between following her fantasy (in the shape of the three Heathers) or her conscience, represented by the Baudelaire reading, enigmatic Jason ‘JD’ Dean; gleefully played with a tongue-in-cheek assuredness by Jordan Luke Gage. His rapid metamorphosis from sympathetic to psychopathic is fun to watch. Less so are the eponymous Heathers; Jodie Steele, Bobbie Little and Frances Mayli McCann who screech far too much for their own good. At least Steele has the advantage of her ‘Heather’ being killed off fairly early on, allowing her to come back and haunt the perpetrators – a sardonic ghost that sheds more light and shade on proceedings than those still alive and clinging onto a script that is pulling them under.

It is buoyed up by the music that, despite its subject matter, powers the piece with energy and optimism. Bizarrely this sense of optimism and misplaced nostalgia is what characterises “Heathers” which, in effect, is a musical about high school killers. It makes light of the issues but doesn’t succeed in highlighting them by the humour. But what do I know? As I said at the start – I am the outsider; detached from the rest of the audience. There’s no denying this is a solid production, with a dream cast of West End talent. And there’s no denying its guaranteed success. It has bludgeoned its way into its cult status – but at the cost of sensitivity.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Pamela Raith 

 


Heathers

Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11th September

 

Previously reviewed by Jonathan this year:
Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament | ★★★★ | Online | February 2021
The Picture of Dorian Gray | ★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Bklyn The Musical | ★★★★★ | Online | March 2021
Remembering the Oscars | ★★★ | Online | March 2021
Disenchanted | ★★★ | Online | April 2021
Preludes in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | May 2021
You Are Here | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | May 2021
Abba Mania | ★★★★ | Shaftesbury Theatre | May 2021
Cruise | ★★★★★ | Duchess Theatre | May 2021
Amélie The Musical | ★★★★ | Criterion Theatre | June 2021
Forever Plaid | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | June 2021
Forgetful Heart | ★★★★ | Online | June 2021
Express G&S | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | June 2021
The Hooley | ★★★★★ | Chiswick House & Gardens | June 2021
Staircase | ★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | June 2021
Bad Days And Odd Nights | ★★★★★ | Greenwich Theatre | June 2021

 

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