Dominion Theatre, London
March 24, 2017
The newly rewritten musical, An American in Paris, arrives in London trailing clouds of glory and a string of awards. It’s not surprising. It’s a total delight: brilliant choreography, the Gershwin musical magic and a stunning cast. The 1951 film starring Gene Kelly was a landmark dance film but having Christopher Wheeldon at the helm has drawn the focus strongly towards contemporary ballet. With so much exceptional dance talent to draw on he has snuck in dance at every opportunity. In the fluid Parisian setting, as cloths and projections fly in and out and prop trees and boulevards chasse on, there is always a pirouette or a lift to accompany the change.
The story retains the central characters but it now has more grit – as we expect from modern musicals. The shadow of WW2 looms large. In the dramatic opening the scene changes as a huge swastika switches in an instant to swathes of French tricolour. GI, Jerry Mulligan, is still on hand dreaming about becoming a Parisian artist. Robert Fairchild is tailormade for the part, handsome, good natured and doggedly determined to get his girl. He also has a fine voice and exceptional dance skills, as to be expected from a principal of the New York City Ballet.
Ex-Royal Ballet dancer, Leanne Cope, as Lise, can also cut the mustard in the dance stakes. More importantly she has that magic blend of vulnerability and strength plus ballerina poise that the role demands. Her singing was a revelation. In her rendition of ‘The Man I Love’ her silvery voice matched her persona perfectly.
But the success of the show comes from the combined strength of talents. Zoë Rainey, as wealthy socialite Milo Davenport, positively reeks of class from her divine Dior ‘New Look’ dresses to her sophisticated voice beautifully harmonised with David Seaton-Young’s Adam in ‘But Not for Me’. As the slightly down-at-heel composer, Seaton-Young provides ballast and a reality check for Jerry. Jane Asher, as Madame Baurel and son Henri, played by Hayden Oakley are saved from aristocratic aloofness by their heroic past deeds and Henri, of course, gets the show-stopping Georges Guétary’s ‘Stairway to Paradise’ number. Here Wheeldon showed he has a definite tinge of showbiz in his choreographic portmanteau in a breath-taking scene of ostrich feathers, top hats and plenty of glitz.
The big dance number is now a theatre performance, a new ballet starring Lise with Jerry as designer and Adam as composer. In this long scene, Wheeldon has blended exciting modern dance with a tinge of period ballet in an effective mix. A ‘dream’ duet within the work when the couple, in black practice clothes, play out their hurt and tetchy feelings interrupts the ballet in a very good way. If all their professional dreams come true with this successful venture, we are kept hanging on until the last moment for Lise and Jerry to kiss, makeup and live happily ever after. Filled with the feel-good factor this musical is just what the doctor ordered and the warm glow in the theatre at curtain down was palpable.
An American in Paris is now booking to September 30.
Visit www.anamericaninparisthemusical.co.uk or call 0845 200 7982 for details.