Haute Culture Parisienne or Bawdy Breast-Fest? Who Cares... It's just great to see that the Moulin Rouge still exists in modern-day Paris
In recent days, we have learned that quite a number of people of the younger generation didn’t actually think that there was such a ship as the Titanic and that it sank on its maiden voyage, precipitating the death of over 1,500 people. They thought, instead, that it was no more than a piece of fiction – written for the 1997 film of the same name. Presumably, they all thought that this fabulous story was just a bit too fantastic to have been real.
While many would consider such people a bit thick and poorly informed, I would have to say that they can be forgiven because I had a similar approach to the phenomenon of the Moulin Rouge. Like the Titanic story, it too was featured on popular celluloid (a particularly irritating musical starring Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman) and I, for one, was never really sure if it ever truly existed. Or, if it did, that it would surely have gone the way of the dinosaurs. After all, is it possible that turn-of-the-century variety show with topless dancing ladies would survive a hundred years of wars, women’s liberation movements, political correctness and euro-austerity?The wonderful news is that it is and it has. Emerging from the Blanche metro station after sundown on the leafy Boulevard Clichy in the Montmartre district, I rubbed my eyes an blinked at the eponymous red windmill turning slowly with its chintzy lights. All around, the atmosphere is lively bordering on the raucous on these streets that are firmly part of the red light district but with a certain level of universal acceptability that keeps the ambiance a comfortable few degrees above “seedy” level.
Having been forewarned about a fairly decent dress code, we joined the long queue of smartly-turned-out fellow moulin-rougers. Everyone was animated and excited as the red rope guy opened the red rope and we filed in. There’s a lot of red and black used in the décor of the place right from the stepped-down entrance hall. Into the main auditorium and you find that the place is quite enormous – several times bigger than you might tend to believe from observing the exterior.
The Moulin Rouge has been extended over the decades since it first opened its doors to unsuspecting audience back in 1889. Back then, it was a large ballroom (It’s still called “Le Bal du Moulin Rouge” today), where couples danced and let themselves go surrounded by dark corners, columns and mirrors whilst on stage, the Can-Can girls (officially knowns as La Quadrille Réaliste) threw their legs up with Belle Epoque gusto.Today, it’s an enormous auditorium facing onto what could be one of the widest stages in Christendom. The show changes every couple of years or so and they are now on their 182nd show – La Féerie. Champagne and the Moulin Rouge go main-en-main, so we (my wife and I) figured that it would be rude not to follow this fine tradition so we went for a half bottle. You can, like many appeared to have done, go the whole hog and have dinner, champagne and the show. Overhead, rich red fabric adorns the ceiling, with turn-of-the-century signs and posters on the walls all adding to the powerful “belle époque” flavour.
We were at a table half way up, which we shared with a couple in their 60’s from outside Tours (Hubert and Céline, who had been given the tickets as a retirement gift) and a talkative 20-something Australian lady named Kerry, who had just come from Ireland and was wrapping up her comprehensive solo European tour with a visit to the Moulin Rouge.
The show begins with all the gusto and razzmatazz of an opening number from a particularly spectacular entry in the John Players Tops competition – albeit somewhat more sophisticated… and without the tops. At any given time, there is about a one-third/two-third split between male and female performers on stage and your eyes are kept constantly busy, looking from one cast member to the other as the super-fit singers and dancers fill out the broad stage, arriving in seamlessly choreographed moves and in varying states of exotic undress.
In all, there are 4 main spectacular scenes, each involving elaborate sets, with songs sung live and accompanied by colourful costumes, choreographed dancing routines and the occasional jaw-dropper: One scene, for example, involves an enormous glass water tank which materializes on stage, while one of the Moulin beauties (delicious in just a thong and a smile) dives in for a short swim with no fewer than 5 dangerous-looking pythons who had no appreciation of the enviable position they were in. The aforementioned “Cancan” is saved for one of the final scenes and goes down a treat with the whole audience clapping and whooping along – even the performers seem to like it the best.In between the glittering scenes, there are some high-quality novelty acts. This included an impossible-looking wince-inducing balancing act, a sort-of ping-pong ball drummer (brilliant) and a ventriloquist. Kerry definitely found him the funniest, and gave a particularly loud whoop when one of the volunteers plucked from the audience as part of his act turned out to be from her home town of Adelaide.
The whole thing lasts close to 2 hours – the 9pm show finishing just in time for the hall to empty to make way for the arrival of the 11pm crowd. While waiting the few minutes for the swell of the exiting throngs to subside, we chatted with the others at our table, where the view was unanimous: It had been well worth the price for the night’s entertainment provided. The retired French couple from Tours were the ones who had approached it with the greatest level of trepidation, but they were most impressed by the sheer technical exuberance of the show. “I have never seen so many beautiful women in one place,” Hubert added, visibly stunned at the statistical overload. Kerry reckoned it was “fantastic” and, along with her visit to Newgrange, one of the highlights of her European adventure.
The Bal du Moulin Rouge is a spectacular, cheesy, saucy, spellbinding, hilarious, dazzling, giddy rollercoaster of a nights entertainment; seasoned with champagne and containing much of what you would expect from a night on the town in the City of Lights. It’s not a cheap evenings entertainment but we certainly feel that it was worth the entrance fee and that seems to be a majority view from what we’ve observed of the smiling patrons at the end of the show. If this is what centuries of French cultural and political evolution has bequeathed to us, then all I can say is: “Vive la Révolution!”
Get Yourself There:
Aer Lingus operates daily flights from Cork and Dublin to Charles de Gaulle Airport. RER and Metro systems take you directly to the front doors of the Moulin Rouge.
Find Out More:
For further information and booking, visit the official website at www.moulinrouge.fr