Whilst on a short break in Paris to celebrate our first anniversary, my wife (let’s call her X) and I deliberated over whether or not to attend a show. By this I’m referring to one of the three top cabarets which the city has on offer (my guidebook references a number of others for those reading who are ‘did-you-knowers’). All three were similarly priced, famous in their own right, and featured elaborate costumes and a sprinkling of topless nudity, but an overall tasteful portrayal of the feminine form. Each show could also be teamed up with dinner, or simply a bottle of champagne (€ ±100 with just champagne and ± €175 with dinner).
And so our deliberation, in its most basic form, came down to which show was really worth our hard-earned Rands. On offer, ‘Féerie’ at the Moulin Rouge, a production at the Lido de Paris on the Champs-Elysees and ‘Désirs’; a slightly risqué (they describe it as ‘avant-garde’) cabaret at the Crazy Horse. I’d seen the Crazy Horse advertised in Vegas a few years back but had never been to one of their shows.
TripAdvisor is my trusty phone-a-friend when faced with tough travel decisions involving a not so insignificant amount of money. There is usually a clear-cut lean towards a particular attraction, or in this case choice of show. It has never failed me in the past, however on this particular occasion viewpoints were quite literally split in a bi-polar manner. Some users rated the Moulin Rouge as a tacky production, with costumes borne of a circus tailor rather than a famous Parisian show seamstress; where patrons are packed into the venue like cattle herded to meat market and more importantly the production was left somewhat lacking. Others said it was the best show they had ever seen; worth every penny and a ‘definite must’ for first timers. Similar reviews appeared for the alternative venues. After reading these, I was left feeling as if I was about to partake in a game of cabaret roulette where the loser (aka me) would be faced with sheer disappointment from my wife (I am a firm believer in the ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’ philosophy).
In the end we opted for the Moulin Rouge; the venue’s frontage (no pun intended), with rotating windmill and red neon is not only a sight to behold but when people think of a cabaret show, it is arguably globally renowned. For our first cabaret it should prove to be a safe bet. We booked the dinner and show option, due mainly to the fact that normal show tickets were sold out and then readied ourselves for the evening’s entertainment – I even purchased a new shirt (not red in case you were wondering).
Our metro journey brought us out at Blanche station, directly in front of the Moulin Rouge and where ladies in dresses (or men) can recreate a Marilyn Monroe pose by positioning themselves above the metro’s large ventilation shaft as a passing train creates an upwards draft….you get the picture! The venue is sited on Boulevard de Cliché in the district of Pigalle, which for those of you who haven’t been to the city is Paris’ red-light district, with sex and lingerie shops aplenty. This is not an area for prudes, but in my view adds to the complete Paris experience.
Whilst taking photos of my wife with the Moulin Rouge’s infamous windmill as a backdrop, I was slightly slow in noticing a coach packed with Chinese tourists pull up alongside the kerb directly across from where we were standing. Upon eventual realisation, it was all I could do to drag the both of us across the busy street and into the queue before the coach belched out its contents in their entirety onto the sidewalk, causing an exponential explosion in queue length. After a short wait, in which a lack of queuing etiquette was demonstrated by aforementioned tourists, we filed down the red carpeted steps into the depths of the Moulin Rouge. It felt as though we were also stepping back in time, with old show posters, low-level lighting and décor adding to the venue’s ambiance.
As we passed one particular poster, X asked whether I thought there was some form of ‘pre-selection’ for the dancers who appeared topless on stage. I replied ‘almost certainly’ as I didn’t think the paying public would appreciate parting with their money for uncontrollable bouncing, overly large, droopy or asymmetrical breasts (I like to think that the producers are catering for a more sophisticated clientele). If anything, the smaller and more pert, the better. Perusing the Moulin Rouge’s website, I see that a ‘slim, graceful figure’ are part of the female Artistic Criteria requirement section.
Following the mandatory deposition of coats, bags and cameras at the cloakroom facility we bought a program and were shown to our table (top tip: take a rucksack and pack everything into this if you want to spare on cloakroom charges). As our booking was last minute, I wasn’t sure what to expect, however the shared table had a good view of the stage and to the delight of my wife a bottle of champagne awaited us (or so she thought) in an ice bucket on the table. There were another two guests already at our table, tucking into their starters when X unashamedly reached over, scooped up the champagne and poured us each a glass, before I could utter the words ‘that’s not ours’. The couple shot us a quizzical look and the waiter standing behind my wife raised his eyebrows so high that it looked like he had recently undergone a Joan Rivers facelift procedure.
Our waiter politely asked what we would like to drink, but didn’t miss an opportunity to quip that champagne ‘appeared’ to be the order of the evening. He quickly delivered our bottle to us and X offered up an apology and a token champagne gesture to our neighbours. I can’t fault her for delivering a superb icebreaker; our Dutch neighbours were also good sports and we chatted in Afrikaans-Flemish, French and broken English throughout the evening’s entertainment. What were the chances of ending up next to someone you could speak to in a foreign language whilst in the middle of the Moulin Rouge? Very slim I would guess.
After reading some of the TripAdvisor reviews on the food, I was again pleasantly surprised when the meal arrived. Our package consisted of a three course set menu, with a choice of two options in each course. Myself and X opted for the smoked salmon starter, veal steak for mains and chocolate (more a tiramisu) dessert in the shape of a windmill – all of which were ample in size and very tasty. The mandatory French bread was also served, which I thought (not being crude) had been deliberately shaped to resemble a boob, in manner of keeping with the evening’s entertainment.
Throughout dinner there was ‘live’ entertainment on stage provided by the Moulin Rouge’s ‘L’Orchestre’. This consisted of a lady in a green satiny dress and some dude sporting a massive afro, both on vocals, (although they were mostly ended up whispering into the mic) with the backing of the old boys club on drums and how-many-times-can-I-play-a-wrong-note brass. If I had to rate something as ‘mediocre’ on the night, this would be it.
On with the show….
Once dinner had been cleared and the non-diners had been ushered into the now crammed theatre (including busloads more of Chinese), the show started. Although there may have been a loose storyline attached to the various scenes, I elected to accept the evening’s entertainment at face-value, remembering that it was after all a French production and an iconic one at that. If you buy and page through the €10 program, this covered the fundamentals.
The Dorris Girl dancers were beautiful and their costumes visibly striking, especially the ones with lights on feathered ‘wings’ used towards the end of the production. Feathers, beads, sequins and revealing outfits featured heavily, as one would expect in a portrayal of women and femininity. Although there are scantily clad and nude (topless) Dorris Girls throughout much of the performance (with a slight interlude in the nudity in the third quarter!) the entire affair was classily executed. As suspected, many of the nudes modelled A-grade assets with in-built dampening to ensure the minimal of bounce during dynamic dance routines. Not to disappoint the female audience, there were also a number of muscular Dorris guys intermingled with their female counterparts. One of the lead guys is also a South African (if his name is anything to go by).
Ballroom, garden, circus and pirate sets all featured in the performance, along with the traditional French cancan (complete with shrieking), and a tribute to Parisian women. There were a huge number of dancers in the overall production and more often than not, a lot happening on-stage at any one time. Everything was well choreographed and one could appreciate the amount of dedication and preparation which went into every performance by the artists. Some of the Dorrises were equipped with microphones, although I’m not entirely convinced that they were singing throughout.
Partway through the show, the front stage disappeared and in its place a large aquarium filled with a number of large pythons emerged. The next second a partially clad girl plunged into the water to perform a water ‘dance’ with the snakes – slightly random but not something you don’t see every day! In between the dancing, there were also a number of support acts which were seriously good and included a duo of acrobats, a comedy sketch with audience participation (very entertaining) and the fastest juggler in the world. The show culminated in a sensory overload of feathers, sparkling costumes, lights, music, singing and dancing.
Once the final curtain had fallen and the audience had finished clapping, there was a rush by staff to prepare the theatre for the 11pm show; no time to sit and sip drinks, so rather plan to go elsewhere. The exit lines were also crazy, however most people patiently queued to vacate the theatre and gather their cloakroom belongings – no prizes for guessing which patrons tried to bypass the formulated queuing system. One of my friends who had recently been to Hong Kong had mentioned that queuing was definitely not a forte of the Far East.
My wife and I both agreed that the evening had been well worth the expense and that it was a great night out in Paris which shouldn’t be missed by first time visitors. That said, ‘Féerie’ is probably something we’d only choose to see once and when we return to Paris our next cabaret will certainly be at one of the other choice venues.