AN AMERICAN IN PARISat the Dominion Theatre
After successful runs in America [and Paris] this new musical is now settled in to the lovely 1920s Dominion for the rest of the year at least.
It's based, of course, on the classic 1951 film. But given that the director/choreographer is Christopher Wheeldon, it's no surprise that the focus is squarely on the dance. The performers are mostly dancers first, singers second. But it is a very close second – Royal Ballet's Leanne Cope, who dances superbly in the Leslie Caron role of Lise, is a confident, pure-toned singer. She's partnered in this matinée by Max Westwell, relishing the chance to slip into Robert Fairchild's dancing shoes as Jerry. And he does so brilliantly, a youthful, energetic GI. The other two “musketeers” are the cabaret chanteur Henri [Haydn Oakley] and grumpy war-wounded artist Adam [David Seadon-Young]. They join towards the end in a poignant They Can't Take That Away From Me, one of several major changes from movie to musical. Nice to see Jane Asher on stage, giving a nice character study as the mother from the haute bourgeoisie, who eventually drops the icy mask and joins in the dance.
Wheeldon has transformed the basic plot, though the characters all survive, more or less true to the original. Lise is now an aspiring ballerina, Milo [Zoe Rainey] is the ballet company's benefactor, Adam writes their scores, and Jerry – eventually – is retained as designer for the sets and costumes. And so, instead of the dream sequence, we see this performance - from backstage initially – danced in full to the Gershwin piece that gives the show its name.
Right from the stunning opening, the post-war setting is stressed; occupation, and collaboration, a very recent memory for the Parisians, just as the fighting is for the Americans. But this added depth is counterbalanced by the escapist dancing, and the glorious Gershwin score – not only the original numbers, but a generous injection of songs from earlier works: Beginners' Luck, Fidgety Feet … In the pit, with his white tie and cream telephone, the debonair MD John Rigby.
And the final ingredient is Bob Crowley's set design. Jerry's sketches are spectacularly brought to life, in a heady combination of moving flats – manoeuvred with balletic precision by dancers – and animated projection. Stunning. One of the most striking numbers is Henri's hesitant cabaret act – Stairway to Paradise. A lot rides on making an impression – “think Radio City” the advice – and suddenly there's an old-fashioned production number, worthy of MGM; there's even a kick line, but, alas, no actual staircase ...