The Auckland Live International Cabaret Season kicked off with a wildly exuberant romp through the territory explored in Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge.

Set in Paris of the 1840s, Songs for the Fallen tells the tragic rags-to-riches story of Marie Duplessis - a French peasant girl who won a place in Parisian high society as the lover, mistress or sometimes wife of a dazzling array of aristocrats and artists that included Alexander Dumas the Younger and Franz Liszt.

Written and performed by Australian Sheridan Harbridge, the award-winning show celebrates the irrepressible spirit of a life devoted to champagne and pretty things but also manages to express the pathos of a woman who was used and abused by the men who sustained her decadent lifestyle.

In true cabaret style, the production is a riotous mash-up of the trashy and the refined with soaring almost operatic songs colliding with raunchy dance routines and a deeply romantic storyline that's constantly interspersed with wickedly funny asides about the need to make a buck.

With a powerful singing voice and whole-hearted performance, Harbridge establishes an intimate relationship with the audience and is well supported in the amusing vaudeville style skits with Simon Corfield and Garth Holcombe playing her ever-changing parade of lovers.

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The anarchic musical score, by Basil Hogios, might be described as electronic baroque and the live keyboards conjured up a bewildering array of instruments and musical effects that were not always well served by a somewhat erratic sound mix.

The faded elegance of Town Hall Concert Chamber helped in evoking the ambience of the period setting and table seating with a makeshift bar makes for a highly entertaining night.

What: Songs for the Fallen
Where: Town Hall Concert Chamber to September 30