After his successes as a choreographer for The Royal Ballet – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Winter’s Tale – Christopher Wheeldon is now bringing his first Broadway adventure to London, together with its two original leads (Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope) in a musical that fuses ballet, Gershwin, and romance in a unique combination.
An American in Paris, based on the Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron-starring 1951 box office hit, takes its source material and reworks it into a celebration of dance and joy after World War II. Keeping the plot almost identical, the change of chronological setting (from some time after the war to the days just before its end) is a plus as it gives an additional layer of depth to the motivations of the characters. It all becomes the light at the end of the tunnel.
Even though there are several styles of dance present, ballet is the main vehicle for the characters to express themselves. In what can only be described as a masterfully choreographed fusion between musical theatre and ballet, Wheeldon creates a language of his own that is hypnotic to watch. Both Fairchild and Cope rise to the challenge outstandingly, bringing their expertise and enriching it with Broadway stardust, whilst a fantastic cast of singers/dancers make this Parisian love story soar.
A special mention must go to set designer Bob Crowley, to whom this musical owes a big part of its soul. Sketches and watercolours – with projections by 59 Productions – appear and disappear creating incredibly evocative settings in seconds. The artistic world of Fairchild’s Jerry Mulligan is ever-present, as if the audience is there to witness the story through his sketchbook.
And, of course, one of the key characters here is music. George and Ira Gershwin’s score and lyrics – including songs and music that don’t appear in the original film – are a glittering monument to Broadway in its most toe-tapping way. A top-form orchestra brings the score to life with energy, whether it’s a variety number (‘I’ll build a stairway to Paradise’) or the climatic ballet in Act II.
Together with ballet stars Cope and Fairchild, David Seadon-Young’s Adam, Haydn Oakley’s Henri, and Zoë Rainey’s Milo Davenport provide the musical theatre side of the show, with beautiful voices that show, for example, in Act II’s emotional ‘For you, for me, for evermore’. However, it is the whole cast, together with ensemble and swings, who deliver one of the most technically proficient performances I have seen in the West End in quite some time.
Is the plot a bit thin? It is indeed. There’s only so much you can do with the source material and a love triangle. But the way the story is told, its incredible visuals, its compelling performances, and its wonderful music make An American in Paris something special. Joyous. Unique.
An American in Paris is playing at the Dominion Theatre till 30 September. For more information and tickets, see anamericaninparisthemusical.co.uk.