Paris at the end of the 19th century was a place full of progress and optimism, industry was booming to the point where World Fairs were held in 1889, with unveiling of the Eiffel Tower and again in 1900, which gave us the expresso machine. This period in France would be later referred to ask Belle Époque or in English the “Beautiful Era”
It was in this atmosphere that on 6th October 1889, the Moulin Rouge opened in the Jardin de Paris at the base of Montmartre on the northern side of Paris. Joseph Oller, who owned the Paris Olympia, along with his manager Charles Zidler understood very well not only public tastes but their want also. The idea was to “slum it” where the rich to come to a fashionable district and mix with others from all walks of life, workers, artists, businessmen, foreigners and a giant elephant, could all rub shoulders. The cabaret became an instant success and was quickly nicknamed “the Palace of Women”, the Moulin Rouge had begun.
Oller and Zidler designed an auditorium where the décor could be changed quickly with large open spaces for people to mix. The acts changed regularly to avoid repetition, ranging from the quadrille the pre-cursor to traditional square dancing to the Can-Can, chorus line dance that appeared in 1830 in the working class ballrooms of Montparnase. As the interest grew, so did the acts and the patrons. In 1890 the dancer “la Goule” noticing the Prince of Wales, the Future Edward VII at a table called out “Hey Wales, the champagne is on you”. In 1893, the “Bal des Quat’s Arts” (the Ball of the Four Arts) caused a scandal when one act consisted of a nude Cleopatra surrounded by by young naked women.
A Change to Operetta
In 1903 the building was renovated and up until the First World War it became more associated with opera and operetta still with great success. On the 27th February 1915 tragedy struck with a fire that destroyed the building and it was not until 1921 that it re-opened. A new building corresponded to a new owner and Francis Salabert decided to reinvigorate the cabaret, acts such as Maurice Chevalier performed and the Moulin Rouge became a popular place for the first showing of American reveues. In 1929, Adelaide Hall and a troop of 100 black artists accompanied the Jazz Plantation Orchestra opens followed in 1937 by the Cotton Club, which was all the rage in the United States.
Return to the Cabaret
With World War II over, the Moulin Rouge re-opens with a bang with Edith Piaf performing alongside Yves Montand. Another re-fit in 1951 see acts such as Bing Crosby, performing to 1200 guests, Josephine Baker, Charles Trenet, Charles Aznavour and Lena Horne. In 1957 Doris Haug creates a female dance troupe of 4 girls named “Doris Girls” today they number 60, still performing under the same name.
1981 saw the Moulin Rouge close for one night so to present its show to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In the following years Village People (1981), Liza Minnelli (1982), Dean Martin (1984), Frank Sinatra (1984).
On the 6th October 1989 the Centenary Gala took place with Charles Aznavour, Lauren Becall, Ray Charles, Tony Curtis, Ella Fitzgerald, Gipsy Kings, Margaux Hemmingway, Jerry Lewis, Jane Russell and Charles Trénet to name a few.
Today “Féerie ” is being performed having opened on 23 December 1999. Out of supposition all Moulin Rouge shows have begun with an “F” since Frou-Frou (1963-65), Frisson (1965-67), Fascination (1967-70), Fantastic (1970-73), Festival (1973-76), Follement (1976-78), Frénésie (1978-83), Femmes, Femmes, Femmes (1983-88), Formidable (1988-99).
The show runs for 2 hours non-stop, including singers, dancer, gymnasts and acrobats and is divided into five themes and accompanied by almost seventy pieces of music.
A visit to Paris, is not a visit to Paris without a visit to the Moulin Rouge.