It’s 2017, and though we’ve seen plenty of musicals heavily incorporating dance into their direction, from Billy Elliot to Half A Sixpence, it feels like the days of epic, creative Gene Kelly type numbers are gone forever. Enter An American In Paris, definitive proof that romance told through dance still very much has a place on stage.
Based on the 1951 film of the same name, An American In Paris follows World War II veteran Jerry Mulligan (Robert Fairchild) as he decides to stay in Paris after the war and pursue a career in art. He befriends fellow American Adam Hochberg (David Seadon-Young), an aspiring pianist and composer who also decides to stay in Paris, as well as Frenchman Henri Baurel (Haydn Oakley), who hides his dreams of becoming a famous nightclub singer in America from his conservative parents. Henri’s uptight and domineering dragon lady of a mother (Jane Asher) runs a ballet company, and newcomer Lise Dassin (Leanne Cope) arrives on the scene as the new prima ballerina, with a new ballet commissioned just for her. All three men end up vying for her affections, and embark on a journey that will have them fighting for romance and their dreams in the city of lights.
An American In Paris is bereft of any showstopping Broadway type numbers, but don’t let that dissuade you from coming. When it played in Broadway in 2015, it nabbed the Tony Awards for Best Scenic Design and Best Lighting, and it’s very easy to see why. The set by Bob Crowley, lighting by Natasha Katz and projection by 59 Productions all work perfectly in tandem and must be commended for transporting audiences straight to Paris. Consisting huge abstract panels that are moved around the stage while projections are mapped onto them, transforming from sketch to watercolour type horizons and crystal clear rivers, their size works to their advantage, placing the characters right in the heart of the action. There’s a particularly interesting point in the show when the three men sing about their love for Lisse, and a vague sketch of a dancer comes to life through animation, projected into the mens’ homes and a delight to watch.
Of course, beyond its top notch production design, the actors are certainly a sight to behold as well, and hold their own against the impressive set. Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope as the leads have a strong onstage chemistry that have them breezing across the stage in Christopher Wheeldon’s spellbinding choreography. One needs no words except body language to see the love these two characters have for each other, particularly in an extended dance number during the climax of the show which really gave Fairchild and Cope a chance to show off their capabilities, enhanced only by the chameleon-like lights and projections that constantly shift and bring out the inherent joy of the dance. The other cast members are no slouch either, and Haydn Oakley in particular is really given a chance to shine in a solo number, allowing his vocal talent to shine whilst performing the requisite tap dance routine of any good classic musical. Zoe Rainey also deserves praise for her role as heiress Milo Davenport, bringing across a garishness and utter confidence in her sexuality that’s utterly compelling to watch.
Coupled with a fantastic ensemble clad in dazzling costumes, Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography could give just about any production a good run for their money with the precise movements of the dancers, like a well oiled machine. Although not your usual sort of musical, An American In Paris is a respectable new production that truly cherishes the role of the choreographer and the beauty of dance, along with a delectable feast for the eyes with its incredible design and visually impressive choreography. An American In Paris reminds audiences of the language of love, and will leave you mesmerized at every step, turn and pirouette, and you can be sure you’ll be going home content with the spectacle you’d have just witnessed.
An American in Paris plays at the Dominion Theatre. Tickets are currently available for booking till 30 September, available here
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy