PARIS - At 125 years old, the Moulin Rouge sparkles and shines from its nestling place along a busy commercial street in the Pigalle district.
The Blanche metro station is mere yards from the home of ornate musical numbers, acrobatic acts, can-can dancers, and topless showgirls, but I chose to walk the few blocks from the station on the line closest to my hotel.
I emerged onto the Boulevard de Clichy, where the center pedestrian island provided a view of Paris' red-light district, a sea of signs for sex shops and massages, Le Folies Pigalle, La Diva, and the Musee de l'Erotisme, before the telltale Moulin Rouge windmill appeared, benign and friendly in the light of day.
It was early, and I had a dinner-show reservation, and I was never so happy to see a Starbucks directly across the street. After enjoying a latte and WiFi, I made my way up the side street that borders the Moulin Rouge, Rue Lepic, toward Montmartre. In addition to cafes and souvenir shops, the street was lined with small markets such as La Fromagerie Lepic, the Boucherie des Gourmets, Routisseurs du Roy, Primeurs Lepic . . . maybe next time.
This time, I had preordered the "Blanche Evening" dinner and the Feerie show - the least-expensive combo, at 172 euros ($183) - weeks before, online. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. for dinner; the show starts at 9 p.m. You don't have to do both, but I wanted the full experience.
It can be a long, hot wait on the steps - lined with posters of can-can dancers - leading to the 850-seat Belle Epoque-style theater, but people were chatting and taking pictures until they were escorted to a seat.
Being alone, as it turned out, was a good thing. There were two vacancies in need of occupants at one of the up-front tables, so I wound up three seats from the stage, opposite another solo - Jim, an enthusiastic 21-year-old from Newcastle, England.
The only sour note of the night came from the stage during dinner, when a band of what we might call wedding singers performed tunes with English lyrics sung phonetically - let's just move on.
The chicken dinner, with an appetizer, dessert and wine included, was flavorful and filling, a good start. Then the curtains opened - and ooh la la!
The current spectacle, Feerie (it translates as "extravaganza"), consists of a troupe of 80 recruited from around the globe, costumed in an ever-changing array of feathers, rhinestones, and sequins, offering varying degrees of coverage for the performers.
Musical numbers marched by for nearly two hours, interspersed with acts as death-defying as any I've seen at a Cirque du Soleil show.
The freakiest moment was when a woman stripped to just a thong jumped into a pool of live snakes - four of them, each about six feet long. When they wouldn't tangle themselves around her, she proceeded to tangle with them. One seemed to be trying to escape onto the stage, requiring the appearance of a wrangler - all too close to where I was seated.
After that, the French can-can was a highlight. Its history, described in the program, dates to 1889, when for the first time, the Moulin Rouge stage included young girls dancing the quadrille, "revolutionary movements, screams, and boisterous rhythm," and those scandalous leg lifts. A Brit named Charles Morton dubbed the dance the "French Cancan," according to the program.
Nicolae Denes Jr., a handsome guy who was the leading man in every number, seemed to be as much quarterback as central attraction for the three lead female dancers.
The color and sparkle and array of 1,000 costumes was almost numbing - Las Vegas on steroids. Certainly the Moulin Rouge's Feerie gave me my money's worth. Musical numbers with pirates and exotic settings and the circus - including miniature ponies and a parade of the famed Doriss Girls - came in seemingly endless succession.