Last night I went to the Dominion Theatre in London to see the new musical An American in Paris. The musical is an adaptation of the 1951 Oscar-winning film of the same name starring the likes of Gene Kelly. It features a 50-something strong cast of dancers, actors and musicians and is accompanied by a score belonging to George and Ira Gershwin. A musical is always in safe hands with a Gershwin. It was nice to escape for a few hours and be transported back to the Golden Age of musical theatre.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the old Hollywood musicals, this show, as the title suggests, is set in Paris – the city of love *wink wink*. The characters find themselves in the aftermath of the second world war still coming to terms with post-occupation France. Jerry, an American soldier and artist, Adam, Jewish/American composer and principle narrator and Henri, a French gentleman from the higher social classes all fall in love with the talented Jewish prima ballerina, Lise. Throw is Marilyn-esque American socialite Milo Davenport, who falls in love with Jerry, and you’ve got yourself some kind of complicated love pentagon. All of the men compete for Lise’s affections through their contributions to a ballet she has been cast in, creating a play within a play/ballet opera within a ballet opera paradox – just to keep it interesting. I’m a sucker for the classics so I fell into the familiar rhythm of this kind of musical. I can’t fault the plot at all for that. There’s plenty I would say about the characters, half of whom were infuriatingly hypocritical. That was nothing to do with the actors’ ability though, rather a definite refection of the common 50s stereotypes found in most of these narratives that my modern, feminist, brain inwardly cringes and rolls its metaphorical eyes at but I can’t completely hate because I get caught in the hopeless romance of it all. I digress…
An American in Paris is the perfect night out for those of you who really enjoy and appreciate the beauty of ballet. Ballet is not even close to my favourite of the dancing genres so I was slightly concerned about holding my attention for that length of time. That being said there was plenty of what I adore; namely some stunning waltzing and my all time favourite – A TAP BREAK. Of course there’s a narrative and dialogue and singing too so it’s not all ballet, ballet, ballet, but if you’d prefer something along the lines of The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun or Calamity Jane maybe give this one a wide berth. Although I don’t always enjoy ballet I’m more than glad that I’ve now seen this show live because there is certainly no way I can fault the star quality and technical ability. The choreography and the execution really was perfection. Leanne Cope who plays Lise is an absolutely stunning dancer and her performance was incredible. An American in Paris really is a way to bring ballet into mainstream musical theatre and it’s a marvel to see.
For me, the set and the costumes really added a beautiful finishing touch. The 1920s-60s are my favourite era of fashion anyway so the costumes were always going to be a winner for me. They were stunning and I secretly wish a hat and long coat were still part of our daily attire now. London must’ve been beautiful back then. I digress again… My point is, as with the rest of the show this was technically faultless. The set design was interesting and highly technical. I have found with the last few productions I have seen at the Dominion that the sets are much more digital graphics based, which I’m usually not a fan of (especially considering this musical is a rebirth of a Hollywood classic that would not have had that kind of technology available). However in this production it worked really well. The backdrops and set pieces were mostly animated sketches the character of Jerry produced of Paris and the other characters. It was beautiful and a very clever and aesthetically pleasing accompaniment to the choreography.
I enjoyed An American in Paris as I could really appreciate it for the sublime art it is. I would not, however, rush back to see it a second time. This is no fault of the production, simply personal preference owing to the fact my appreciation of ballet extends merely to a tolerance and not a love. If you manage to see the show, do let me know what you think in the comments!