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An American in Paris Review

Haydn Oakley, centre, with the cast of An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre
Haydn Oakley, centre, with the cast of An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre CREDIT Johan Persson

They don’t make musicals like An American in Paris anymore these days. It’s a cliché for anything broadly retro, but I’m sticking with it. I found myself having to get used to its tempo, commensurate with a less frenetic era. So many new musicals are almost an attack on the senses (or are otherwise boring and unsatisfying), but this one is so pleasant and gracious that it is difficult not to be swayed by its charm. The various aspects of this musical are, however, too compartmentalised: when the full company dances, they dance and nothing else – not a word is spoken or sung for several minutes. Every so often I felt as though I wondered if I was really at Sadler’s Wells rather than the Dominion Theatre – a compliment, for the avoidance of doubt, to the stellar cast in this production.

As though to rest the company after extended dance sequences, spoken dialogue sections seem to go on for too long. The musical director (John Rigby) steps away from the conductor’s podium (never, in my humble opinion, a good sign in a new musical: I want to hear songs!), and characters are involved in conversation at length, sometimes seated as though panelists on a talk show. When the musical numbers (re)appear, they do little to advance the narrative, merely reiterating what has been said already, or otherwise setting up for a spoken conversation to follow. There is, however, one notable exception to this. ‘I Got Rhythm’, without giving too much away, is done with originality (even if I still prefer the more exhilarating and show-stopping version that closes the first act of Crazy For You) and an authentic attempt to incorporate both lyrics and music to what is going on at that point in the story. In any event, there aren’t any musical numbers that feel out of place.

The music plays out at a surprisingly subdued volume for a West End musical, giving the show a living room ambience to what is, essentially, an intimate story. There’s no escaping the fact that this is a jukebox musical, or that the leads, Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan and Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, are dancers first and singers second. Their pas de deux (not a phrase I would usually deploy in a show billed as a musical rather than a dance production) that closes the show is simply gorgeous. There are strong supporting performances from David Seadon-Young’s Adam Hochberg and Zoë Rainey’s Milo Davenport, but ultimately, the show’s main strength lies in its choreography (Christopher Wheeldon).

The first half (the aforementioned ‘I Got Rhythm’ aside), is borderline tepid, and it is only after the interval that it really feels like a fully-fledged musical production is actually going on. A spectacular moment comes in ‘I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise’, when Henri Baurel (a likeable Haydn Oakley) enters a dream world; by the end of the number his mother (Jane Asher) is horrified and his father (Julian Forsyth) enraptured.

An American in Paris London Dominion Theatre – Trailer

It’s a long wait for the penultimate musical number to see Fairchild’s Jerry at last go all-out, circling and pirouetting his way around the stage (think ‘Electricity’ in Billy Elliot the Musical). Come the curtain call, though, this plot-thin but dance-heavy musical had finally won me over. I didn’t find myself having ‘Fidgety Feet’, which is just as well, as that particular number is about unremitting boredom at the theatre, and I daresay this beautiful and lavish production has plenty of heart. Finally, it would be quite wrong to not name drop George and Ira Gershwin in a review of An American in Paris, and the selection of tunes included in this production from their repertoire is suitably sublime. ‘S Wonderful’? Oui.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Acclaimed as “a perfect integration of dance, romance and classic Gershwin” (The New York Times), An American In Paris is the award-winning, thrillingly staged and astonishingly danced Broadway musical featuring some of the greatest music and lyrics ever written.

Jerry Mulligan is an American GI striving to make it as a painter in a city suddenly bursting with hope and possibility. Following a chance encounter with a beautiful young dancer named Lise, the streets of Paris become the backdrop to a sensuous, modern romance of art, friendship and love in the aftermath of war.

Performed by a company of over 50 actors, dancers and musicians, and directed and choreographed by Olivier and Tony® Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon, this stunning re-imagining of the Oscar® winning film played a sold out, world premiere engagement at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris before transferring triumphantly to Broadway, where it became the most awarded musical of the year.

Dominion Theatre
268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ

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