An American in Paris opened on the West End direct from Broadway to rave reviews in March this year, and I’ve been itching to see it since. As a lover of ballet, the dance-heavy show really appealed to me. I’m not familiar with the source material, the 1951 Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron film, and whilst the plot is a little (well, a lot) flimsy, the gorgeous Gerswhin music and incredible choreography and performances make this a really lovely night out at the theatre.
The plot that is there follows Jerry Mulligan (Ashley Day), an American soldier in Paris at the end of the Second World War. He decides to stay in the city to pursue his real passion, art, and becomes captivated by the young dancer Lise Dassin (at this performance, Kristen McGarrity). However, Jerry faces competition for Lise’s affections from his rag-tag two friends; fellow American and composer Adam Hochberg (David Seadon-Young) and affluent Frenchman and aspiring singer Henri Baurel (Haydn Oakley).
Apparently Craig Lucas’ book improved on the story of the film, which does make me wonder just how thin the original plot is. Whilst he is good at incorporating the recent dark patch in French and world history into the story, there is cheesy dialogue a-plenty (luckily generally well sold by the actors), the gender politics are very 1950s (men squabbling over who should marry Lise, without ever…actually…asking her) and perhaps the biggest clanger is Jerry deciding he’s going to call Lise Liza, in order to shoe-horn in another song.
However, this is not a show that is about the plot and fortunately Christopher Wheeldon’s wonderful choreography and the score of Gerswhin standards and classical pieces, really do make the show soar. The second act features an entire ballet, and the show isn’t afraid to frequently have scenes with minimal speaking, focusing on the sheer talent of the entire cast and ensemble to tell the story through dance. From a kick-line (which had an elderly woman smack her husband with excitement in the row in front of me), to classical choreography to tap; Wheeldon covers everything and the cast deliver it perfectly (it was also pretty neat to see Jonathan Caguioa performing who I saw in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s stuff). The orchestra performs all the pieces with gusto (and were conducted by a woman!) and it’s difficult to leave not toe-tapping.
The principals are all excellent also. Ashley Day began being the alternate Jerry to original cast member Robert Fairchild, but makes the role entirely his own. With a real old-school Hollywood look (and smile), great voice and killer voice, he really holds attention when he’s on stage. As Lise, Kristen McGarrity is a beautiful dancer and whilst her voice isn’t the strongest, she really sparkled on stage and I hope that she gets a role to play full-time. My other stand-outs were David Seadon-Young as the slightly morose Adam, who I was really rooting for, and Zoe Rainey as Milo Davenport, the fiery American heiress who takes Jerry under her wing.
From the great dancing to the glorious score and creative set designs by Bob Crowley, whilst An American in Paris is perhaps not the most modern night at the theatre, it is certainly a fun one.