It's big, it's bold, it's ballet as well as a musical - a ballical! AN AMERICAN IN PARIS won 4 Tony Awards on Broadway and now it's opened at a recently-renovated Dominion Theatre but did it leave me dancing up Tottenham Court Road?
To be honest, I have never been a fan of the 1951 film starring the winsome (losesome) Leslie Caron and the overbearing ego of Gene Kelly - I have always thought it a fairly lumbering, unfunny film and justifiably overshadowed by Kelly's next film SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. But here we are, sitting down to see the stage version which comes tailing success and awards...
The musical is the first to be both directed and choreographed by the British ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (he had previously done the dances for the 2002 musical SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS) and was first staged in Paris at the Théatre du Chátelet - a unique theatre in that city that stages large-scale American musicals - which then did the 'coals to Newcastle' thing by transferring to New York.
Wheeldon has done a wonderful job in making the show 'move' - even the dialogue scenes seem choreographed - and the show certainly moves along briskly. His choreography is endlessly inventive and it really lifts the show as the book by Craig Lucas is shockingly mundane. You get the distinct impression that a fairly straight-forward plot - American would-be artist in post-WWII Paris falls in love with an enigmatic girl who is also loved by two of his friends - is dragged out to snapping point with endless complications and a particularly drippy heroine.
The lame script ultimately gives the show no real heart and no matter how good a show's music, choreography, design or performances are, if you have no interest in the characters you are watching or care for their travails then there is no emotional engagement. However - along with Wheeldon's wonderfully vibrant choreography which luckily punctuates Lucas' bland tale frequently - the production is always watchable thanks to Bob Crowley's wonderful design: filmic video projections of Paris streets being hand-drawn move the action along elegantly and right at the top of the show there is a wonderful moment when a Swastika is torn down to envelope the stage in a massive, billowing tricolor.
The best is left for last with two barn-storming numbers: I'LL BUILD A STAIRWAY TO PARADISE builds wonderfully from a singer's shaky performance in a Paris nightclub to a gloriously over-the-top fantasy sequence paying homage to New York's Chrysler Building, and finally the climactic 12 minute-plus title ballet explodes onto the stage with Crowley's Mondrian-inspired designs, Gershwin's evocative music and Wheeldon's delicious choreography.
The AMERICAN IN PARIS ballet also showcases the marvellous dancing of the two leads, Robert Fairchild (ex-New York City Ballet) as Jerry and Leanne Cope (ex-Royal ballet) as Lise, who are reprising their Broadway roles. Fairchild is a real find: he has a nice personality onstage, a pleasing singing voice and needless to say his dancing is a joy to behold. Leanne Cope has a harder task as Craig Lucas has saddled her with such a drip to play but her dancing is a true delight. Kudos do have to go to the 15-strong orchestra who made the Gershwin songs sound great.
The supporting cast includes David Seadon-Young, Haydn Oakley, Zoe Rainey and Jane Asher but again Craig Lucas' script gives them unfunny lines to say and two-dimensional roles to play. I also think a major problem is having the show in the Dominion; no matter what they have done to it, it was a barn before and it's a barn still with zero character. It's a tough space to play 'heartwarming' - the elephantine quality is also matched in the programme being upgraded to an enormous souvenir brochure: bigger is not necessarily better.
Would I recommend it? Yes I think I would though I feel no urge to return to see it myself. It was certainly a feast for the eyes and ears while leaving the heart unmoved.