Home Musical score Red Mill! The musical is a spectacular feast for the senses

Red Mill! The musical is a spectacular feast for the senses



Notice: Moulin Rouge! Musical comedy

A wise man once observed that the theater is the only art form that recognizes its audience, and that is why it will never die. As patrons eagerly crowd into Melbourne’s Regent Theater, Derek McLane’s blood-red set is already fluttering and several pairs of eyes gaze at us coldly.

The liquid limbs and lacy leather costumes set an unmistakably erotic tone. Two women swallow swords for our amusement. Between the impresario, Harold Zidler (Simon Burke).

Just as he salutes the aspiring composer Christian (Des Flanagan), the bohemians Toulouse-Lautrec (Tim Omaji) and Santiago (Ryan Gonzalez) and the Duke of Monroth (Andrew Cook), Zidler is enthusiastic in our direction:

Welcome, beautiful collection of reprobates and rascals, artists and upstarts, maids and sodomites !.

We take our seats inside the Moulin Rouge.

Those familiar with Baz Luhrmann’s hit musical (2001) are ready and practically foaming up for Lady Marmalade. Samantha Dodemaide, Olivia Vasquez, Ruva Ngwenya and Christopher J Scalzo do not disappoint. They tear up the number, teeth and everything, and we’re off!

A fiercely talented line-up

This long-awaited local incarnation of the ten times Tony award-winning The Broadway production follows the script of the film fairly closely.

Our penniless and poetic hero instantly fell in love with Moulin Rouge superstar Satine (Alinta Chidzey). She, mistaking him for the rich duke she must seduce, drops her guard long enough to be swept away by love at first sight. The club, home to wrecks, wanderers and lost souls, hangs in the balance of their doomed romance. Oh – and to add to the urgency of it all, Satine is dying of consumption.

Read more: Making films is human, for Baz Luhrmann, divine

There are a few notable starting points. The Orientalism that was so brutal in the film is thankfully diminished. There are counterpoint scenes against the backdrop of the Parisian elite. And the score has been dramatically overhauled.

A theatrical riff on one of the 2001 film’s most iconic moments.
World Creatures / Michelle Grace Hunder

More than 70 songs propel us through this tragic love story. Anthems and chart tops like Chandelier and Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) give way to unexpected strains of Such Great Heights. Omaji delivers a haunting version of Nature Boy. Katy Perry’s hit Firework in 2010 is wonderfully reimagined to reveal the double imperative at play for Satine: her fatigue and rapidly declining health versus her desire to explode on stage with all the strength of her being.

As Satine, Chidzey does just that. It is a virtuoso performance, powerful and mercurial, vocally skillful, technically precise and extremely vulnerable. As soon as she arrives, all eyes slide towards her. While this effect is clearly supported by sumptuous staging, lighting, costumes and choreography, it’s the humanity she brings to the role that compels us.

In a range of fiercely talented artists, special mention is also due to Tim Omaji for his playful but deeply raw portrayal of the revolutionary artist, Toulouse-Lautrec; Andrew Cook for his reinvention of the Dastardly Duke as supremely assertive and menacing; Samantha Dodemaide for her rough, comical but wonderfully layered Nini; and Simon Burke for his heart-of-gold huckster, Zidler.

Production image: the cast
The local cast is spectacular.
World Creatures / Michelle Grace Hunder

The set stands out on its own. As impressive as they are diverse, they belies the tired (read: racist, gendered, etc.) assumption that inclusive casting somehow means ‘sacrificing standards’.

They are artists who can sing a tune, dance a tango, and literally fly through the air – sometimes simultaneously. This depth of representation on stage gives authenticity to the representation of the Moulin Rouge as a refuge for marginalized artists.

Darker dynamics

And now that we’re back at the club and our relative positions on the inside, I have to note that the audience experience remains extremely safe throughout.

Although we are sitting at the Moulin Rouge and being told that Satine got there thanks to child prostitution, we are never made comfortable or complicit in its commodification.

We hear about the fate of those who are rejected by ruthless patrons and ex-lovers: slit throats, acid disfigurement – we even see it stylized in Roxanne’s dance sequence. But the violent dynamics of this world are attributed purely and simply to the character of the Duke.

They are individualized in the text in exactly the same way that the social phenomenon of male violence against women is attributed to individual men. It’s not the system that’s bad, it’s just a few bad apples.

Production image: four pairs dance a tango
Patrons are not involved in the underlying operating currents of this world.
World Creatures / Michelle Grace Hunder

Yes, I know – this is a review of the book, not the production, which is meant to be a scorching game. But I believe in the public. We can manage the complexity a little, especially when it gives a resonance to a work.

Yet the show is an undeniable theatrical achievement – a spectacular and spectacular feast for the senses. Its main creatives should be extremely proud. My latest cry is for music directors, a category of creatives often overlooked in musical comedy reviews, oddly enough.

Well done to Luke Hunter and Vicky Jacobs, both local legends, for their argument over this extravagant and demanding score. Audience of Melbourne, don’t miss this sparkling diamond of a show.

Red Mill! The musical is at the Regent Theater until May 2022, after which it is moved to Sydney.