Based on the 1951 Hollywood musical of the same name, An American in Paris has been turned into lavish staged musical with a much greater emphasis on ballet. It first showcased at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2014 and arrived at the Dominion Theatre in March this year.
Marketed as a homage to the “big Broadway musical”, it tells the story of Jerry Mulligan, an American WW2 veteran who is trying to make it as a painter on the streets of Paris. He falls head over heels for a beautiful but complicated Lise, who works in a department store and has big dreams of making it as a dancer.
Things take a turn for the interesting when Jerry catches the eye of a wealthy, art-collecting heiress. He soon discovers that he is not the only one after Lise’s heart and must decide what is most important to him: fame or love.
I had high expectations as the curtain rose and the music started. Set pieces began to whirl around the stage, introducing us to the bustling but slightly sinister streets of post-war Paris. There are many set changes throughout the performance, and to me the set pieces were the star of the show. In one scene, we watch Jerry and Lise dance together to a backdrop of shimmering water that ripples and flows as if it were the real thing.
Sadly, I cannot declare the same enthusiasm for the music. Based on the melodies and lyrics of the Gershwin brothers, the performance is chock full of famous hits such as I Got Rhythm and Fidgety Feat. However many of the songs fall rather flat, and some such as They Can’t Take That Away From Me have little relevance to the storyline. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the music didn’t have the magical qualities that dazzled in me in Top Hat and 42nd Street.
Another major niggle for me was the dancing. From everything that I had seen and read, I was expecting An American in Paris to be a beautiful marriage of tap dance and ballet. However much to my disappointment there was hardly a tap shoe in sight. The ballet was very worthy, but if I’m honest it all started to feel a bit repetitive. This was particularly the case during the crescendo of the performance: the opening night of the ballet. I found the geometric costumes jarring and the performance seemed to go on forever.
And what of the performers? The energetic and youthful-looking Ashley Day was an amiable Jerry, displaying an impressive breadth of dancing prowess. Leanne Cope’s Lise was a beautiful ballet dancer, but beyond this I found her characterisation wooden and despondent. I began to question why her character was the object of so much love and affection. The rest of the cast were fine, but I felt the performance could have done with some more mature actors. I wouldn’t have know from looking at her that Milo, the art heiress, was meant to be much older than Jerry.
4/10 The engaging storyline and fantastic staging is let down by lacklustre acting and too much ballet. If its a big Broadway musical you’re hoping for, go and see 42nd Street instead!