And the curtains close for the final time on An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre, London. The piece has been called a “riot of colour and movement” and “a luxurious, sumptuous musical masterpiece” and had most of its reviewers raving. It is time to take a look at whether this really did live up to the hype.
The clever set by 59 Productions and Bob Crowley transported the audience to the Parisian art scene through chalk, watercolour, and line drawings of famous scenes. The set design was smart and full of lots of little tricks – including an ingenious selection of photo frames also playing as windows when needed – but not in a way that was overplayed. It played a quirky but perfect supporting role to all that transpired on stage.
Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography was nothing short of mesmerising and occupied a delightful space between contemporary ballet and swing, whilst also seamlessly flowing between the two.
It seemed a shame to have enjoyed the classic I Got Rhythm so early on, however, its occurrence, almost spontaneously, opened a gateway to more show and jazz standards, as well as the notable frivolity of Gershwin’s musical masterpiece. Unfortunately, a much loved standard, The Man I Love, could have been easily missed, when little Lise’s voice did not match up to this big song. With notable recordings from Billie Holliday, Etta James, and Diana Ross, this song has taken on the persona of a woman determined to meet her man, not a woman lost in love. On the other hand, the stunning vibrato of David Seadon-Young, as Adam, really displayed his character as a musical genius and talented songwriter.
A touching surprise was the seeming homage to daring ballet choreographers. The almost comical scene in which the surrealist paintings danced with their artists is not dissimilar to the jollity of David Bintley’s Still Life at the Penguin Café, with its bizarre characters and fun movement. The ballet to which the entire plot leads also has connotations of the choreography of the early twentieth century. The ballet scene, set to Gershwin’s rhapsodic ballet is unmistakably fashioned in the style of famed American choreographer George Balanchine. These artists did indeed have a relationship, and careers that spanned similar time periods. The ballet scene, therefore, was as realistic as it could possibly have been.
The audience was treated to not just a spectacular musical, but also a stand alone, and striking contemporary ballet. We would expect nothing less of Wheeldon choreography. The grand pas-de-deux, as some in the dance business might say, or the moment that Lise realised that she was in love with Gerry was truly magical. The way that the choreography played with the music demonstrated that for these two lovers, there really was nobody in the world for them but each other; the soundtrack of their romance full of brassy slides and flamboyant solos. The dancers amongst the audience may have also noted that by this scene in the story, Lise’s dancing had taken on the striking American balletic style of her partner, in comparison to her reserved French-style arabesque lines at the beginning of the work.
This musical truly was as ravishing as the reviews suggested.
Passion, suspense and comedy of the very best theatre, ballet to rival any company or opera house, and music that would have been able to stand alone in any concert hall. The quality of the work was remarkable. But it was also effortless and feel good, so that the audience were able to be fully immersed in the story.
All that is left to say then, as the curtains close on this S’Wonderful production is congratulations on such a fine show, and merde for what the future holds for its fine cast.
Image: Tristram Kenton for The Stage