“Theatrical gold. A riot of colour and movement”
A magical transformation has taken place. Aside from its sensational climactic ballet, the 1951 Hollywood movie on which this show is based offers a ludicrously stagey vision of Paris filled with cheery gendarmes and chirping kids. But Christopher Wheeldon, as director and choreographer, and Bob Crowley, whose sets and costumes have a touch of genius, have created a show that not only offers an eclectic range of Gershwin songs but is also a riot of colour and movement.
From the start, as swastika-adorned banners turn into the tricolour, we are reminded that we are in the newly liberated Paris of 1945; it is still, however, a city of breadlines and vengeful attacks on collaborators. But Craig Lucas’s book does everything to give substance to the movie’s paper-thin story. We still see an ex-GI and would-be artist, Jerry Mulligan, falling in love with Parisian Lise. But there are now two rivals for Lise’s affections, in the shape of an aspiring nightclub singer, Henri, and a war-maimed composer, Adam. The pivotal role of Milo, a rich American woman in love with Jerry, has also been enhanced, so that she now finds herself financing a new ballet in which Lise will star.
The story has been radically improved, but it is the look of the show that stuns one. Crowley’s designs not only seem part of the choreography but also offer a painterly kaleidoscope. The glimmer of light on water reminds one of Monet, there is more than a touch of Renoir’s rainbow palette in a masquerade ball and the bustling boulevards, while the geometric shapes and vibrant colours in the final ballet evoke Picasso and the paper collages of late Matisse. If you were to freeze the action at any point, you would be left with a powerful image.
Wheeldon’s choreography, however, ensures the show is never still. He lets dance emerge out of daily life as in an umbrella-twirling number in the midst of Galeries Lafayette. And in The Eclipse of Uranus dance – a clever number that takes place at a posh soiree for culture vultures –he parodies the artiness of 40s classical ballet to show its adherents collectively jiving to an unfamiliar Gershwin number, Fidgety Feet.
The moment of ecstasy that all musicals need comes when Henri, who is here a stumbling amateur rather than a smooth professional, turns I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise into a soaring Mittyesque fantasy in an art deco Radio City Music Hall filled with ostrich-plumed chorus girls.
Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is excellent as Jerry because, as well as being able to act and sing, he has the capacity to glide effortlessly into a number. The Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope is a beguiling Lise, at her best in the big dance routines. The support, meanwhile, is impeccable. Haydn Oakley, a dead ringer for Julian Barnes, lends Henri an unexpected complexity; Zoe Rainey is highly stylish as Milo; and David Seadon-Young is suitably wry as the aggrieved composer. There is even the bonus of Jane Asher as Henri’s mother hinting that inside a strait-laced, high-bourgeois figure lurks a toe-tapping swinger. With Rob Fisher supervising a score that includes a wealth of Gershwin classics, you feel as if the tarnished silver of the Vincente Minnelli movie has been turned into theatrical gold.
Author: Michael Billington
“London's stage has a new heart-breaker”
London's stage has a new heart-breaker. Little Leanne Cope, with black ink-blob hairdo and elfin face, dances and acts and sings and wows in the Broadway- originated adaptation of An American in Paris.
Ballerina Miss Cope is one of three big reasons to catch this show.
The other two are the strikingly modern sets, full of geometric shapes and primary colours – great splashes of daffodil yellow – and the music of George and Ira Gershwin.
Songs include I Got Rhythm, ’S Wonderful and a terrific Fidgety Feet when a room full of bored bourgeoisie suddenly find their feet flying into the air at George Gershwin’s irresistible beat.
Lots of heels round me in the stalls at the Dominion last night started itching, too.
The storyline, creaky, will be familiar from the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron film.
Two former American GIs in post-war Paris fall in love with ballet dancer Lise, who is vaguely promised to a likeable Frenchman. The three men, though friends, do not initially know they are rivals in love.
The plot has been given an extra twist of the schmaltz mill here by accentuating Lise’s background and her suffering under ‘the Nazis’ (as wartime Germans are nowadays always called for politically correct reasons).
Don’t let's gripe about the staleness of the story and the formulaic characterisation. Let’s celebrate the repeatedly inventive staging of director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and his designer Bob Crowley. Add a strong band – some fine trumpeting – and a well-drilled cast who manage not to bump into several high mirrors which keep being wheeled hither and thither. There is endless movement on stage. Your eye will never be bored.
Robert Fairchild is the main love interest as struggling artist Jerry, who shows Lise that true love can be a liberation (a topical word in 1940s Paris). Mr Fairchild is an athletic dancer but a touch deciduous at the acting lark. David Seadon-Young and Haydn Oakley compensate for that shortfall as Lise’s other suitors. Jane Asher is on parade as a would-be mother in law.
But most of all, praise be for the enchanting Miss Cope.
Author: Quentin Letts
“Grace, a lightness that would out-soufflé even Julia Child, and a joie de vivre that lifts it, and us, all night long. Balletic choreography that at times takes your breath away”
“Rhythm, lashings of gorgeous Gershwin melody and, above all, Christopher Wheeldon’s witty choreography”
It’s got a plot as cheesy as Brie and several characters as thin as tulle — but, pouf!, who cares? It’s also got rhythm, lashings of gorgeous Gershwin melody and, above all, Christopher Wheeldon’s witty choreography. This lavish musical, reworked for the stage by Wheeldon (who also directs) from the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, is such a tonic it should be available on prescription.
Craig Lucas’s script introduces some shadow, reminding us that this is a story set in postwar Paris with the trauma of occupation still hanging in the air, though you would be hard pressed to make a case for it as penetrating drama: psychological details and a back-story about the Resistance struggle to make an impact. No, where the show scores is in capturing a dizzy sense of freedom and hope. At its heart is a story of boy-meets-girl — or in this case, boys-meet-girl, as not only ex-GI and would-be artist Jerry, but also his budding composer friend Adam and wannabe singer Henri are all in thrall to aspiring ballet dancer Lise — and it’s told here with insouciant charm.
Bob Crowley’s painterly set sends us whirling through the streets of Paris, with 59 Productions’ video designs referencing both Jerry’s sketches and French artists — a touch of Renoir there, an echo of Degas there — to suggest a city rediscovering itself and support a theme of budding, postwar creativity. But it’s the dance that is the real draw, with Wheeldon working the choreography into the storytelling and characterisation: hesitant then expansively lyrical for Lise; by turns nonchalant and dazzling for Jerry. And Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild are utterly beguiling as the young lovers, her gentle grace matched by his cheeky, nimble footwork and exuberant leaps.
It’s delightful to see ballet used mischievously, as in a ridiculous flirty number during which Jerry mixes pirouettes and jetés with the sort of umbrella-twirling tricks native to tap routines. Dance expresses characters’ hopes and feelings, with Henri’s bumbling cabaret appearance transformed, as he imagines it, into a dazzling spectacle. And it comes into its own with the final ballet, when Lise, inspired by Jerry, finds her feet (as it were) and the two soar and swoop across the stage.
There’s a nice, wry performance from David Seadon-Young as Adam, a touching one from Haydn Oakley as Henri and a deal of poise from Jane Asher as Henri’s starchy mother and Zoë Rainey as absurdly wealthy American art-lover Milo Davenport. Some of the Gershwin classics are crowbarred in, but no matter: you leave this show with fidgety feet.
Author: Sarah Hemming
“An instant classic”
Hot on the heels of Matthew Bourne's adaptation of the 1948 dance film The Red Shoes as a new narrative ballet comes this Broadway musical version of An American in Paris, a film originally released just three years later. It, too, swirls with exhilarating movement and contains several extended sequences of pure dance in a variety of genres, from jazz and tap to pure ballet.
As such, it is hardly surprising that the director and choreographer is Christopher Wheeldon, a former Royal Ballet dancer turned leading dance creator for that and other international companies. But in only the second time he has worked on a musical, he shows an intricate command of both narrative and bold stage pictures, working with book writer Craig Lucas and designer Bob Crowley respectively. Together they ingeniously conjure a gorgeous, completely enveloping portrait of post-war Paris that alludes to the dark chapter in the history of the City of Light while simultaneously illustrating its sparkling and sexy side.
It is infused with a wistful romanticism, as the demobbed American soldier Jerry Mulligan decides to stay on in Paris after the liberation to nurture his passion as a painter. He then falls in with aspiring composer Adam and would-be singer Henri from a wealthy Parisian family – and falls in love with a young ballerina, Lise. But she, it turns out, is already spoken for with Henri, whose family protected her from the Nazis.
The story is played out against a composite score drawn from songs that the Gershwin brothers wrote for the film but also other shows and orchestral pieces. These are newly contextualised here within a dance framework that simultaneously serves the emotion and wit of the lyrics but also lets the company fly with movement to underpin it with its own effortless grace.
Just as Half a Sixpence, also in the West End, conscripts even the most reluctant participant into dance with its song Pick out a Simple Tune, so Fidgety Feet here explodes as an exhilarating ensemble number featuring a stageful of feet that won't stop dancing. The show also contains formal ballet in a way that has not been exploited since the great Rodgers and Hart musical On Your Toes (which featured choreography by George Balanchine) was revived on Broadway in 1983.
Like that show, this one duly requires ballet-trained dancers, and Wheeldon's production has the luxury casting of New York City Ballet's Robert Fairchild as Jerry and the Royal Ballet principal Leanne Cope as Lise, who are both effortless singers as well as dazzling movers. At least 10 of the ensemble also hail from training at the Royal Ballet School, while others have graduated from English National Ballet School, Scottish Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, as well as Arts Ed and Bird College of Dance.
But this is also that rare show where the designs also dance. Paris is magically conjured in line drawings that come to life before our eyes, as do startling transformations. It is sheer musical theatre magic.
Author: Mark Shenton
“A magical assault on the senses”
"A richly satisfying show, delivered with heart and flair"
“Sumptuously beautiful and heartfelt, it has a romantic pizzazz all of its own”
An American in Paris is unlike any other musical on the London stage: sumptuously beautiful and heartfelt, it has a romantic pizzazz all of its own.
In adapting the 1951 musical for the stage, book writer Craig Lucas and director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon have effectively created a new musical, which grounds the love of GI Jerry Mulligan for the Parisian waif Lise in the realities of post-war Paris. As their tender love grows and thrives, overcoming numerous obstacles, the show itself moves from gloom to glory. It is, as the Gershwin score assembled from his entire back catalogue might put it "S'wonderful."
That score is one of the show's chief assets, opening as it does with the "Concerto in F" and concluding with the famous "An American in Paris" ballet, swiftly followed by the heartfelt "They Can't Take That Away From Me". The songs provide an armature on which to hang the plot, which unfolds like a memory play through the narration of pessimistic Adam. It all just about hangs together.
But it is the design and the direction that give An American in Paris its unique texture and tone. Bob Crowley's designs, a fleet and gorgeous mixture of stage flats and projections (courtesy of 59 Productions Ltd) do more than set the scene, they create a mood. From the moment the show opens with a billowing French flag replacing the Nazi swastika, and the streets of Paris hove into view in black and white, scribbled drawings, that in turn build to a glorious new dawn, the design expresses meaning as well as place.
Within this frame, Wheeldon lets his action flow. The dialogue and spoken scenes have been much tightened since the show's premiere in Paris in 2014, but he still plays to his strengths. As a classical dance choreographer, he knows that dance is a language and in a succession of dazzling sequences, he lets it tell the story – whisking Lise and Jerry through their romance in danced duets rather than sung ones.
His steps and his conception have deep refinement, but allow the emotion to emerge naturally from the action, whether it is in a version of "I've Got Rhythm" that grows gradually, or in the final ballet which is full of the passion that Lise has begun to feel. For good measure, he throws in one big tap number, but it is the bold use of balletic idiom, mixed with a more casual musical style, that makes the choreography so striking.
His purpose and instinct are perfectly served by his stars. Although many of the parts have been recast for this British production – with Jane Asher making a striking appearance as a haughty Frenchwoman – and are all well-played, Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild created the parts of Lise and Jerry on stage, and inhabit them fully. He is ballet royalty, a principal at New York City Ballet, yet with the sly, sexy instincts of a Broadway hoofer, soft-shoe shuffling with easy grace and burning up the stage when he jumps and turns. He sings well, too and brandishes a megawatt charm of which Gene Kelly would be proud.
Since Paris, Cope has grown into her role. She was always a graceful dancer, now she sings and acts with a quiet confidence, creating a fully-rounded portrait of a girl on the threshold of finding true love, trying to do the right thing by everyone around her, trying to forget her suffering. She gives a glorious show its gentle heart.
Author: Sarah Crompton
“This spectacularly ravishing show has rhythm, romance and razzle-dazzle”
"Rhythm, music, laughter, comedy, dance, romance and artistry – who could ask for anything more?"
‘S wonderful, ‘s marvellous. An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre is magic on stage. The classic 1951 Gene Kelly movie has been transformed into a musical so joyous and colourful and heart-warming that you’ll want to find a time machine and buy a plane ticket to Paris and climb right in to the world of this production. All the way home, you’ll grin at strangers as you hum the Gershwin tunes under your breath.
But “transformed” is the appropriate word, because this musical has been rebuilt from the ground up. That’s probably a good thing. Even though it was saddening not to see certain favourite scenes from the 1951 original (Gene Kelly’s Jerry Mulligan teaching the Parisian kids English! Adam hilariously realising his pals are in love with the same lady!), a new production demanded something fresh.
And that’s what director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has delivered in this West End transfer of the Tony Award-winning Broadway production.
The skeleton of the story remains the same: ex-American GI Jerry Mulligan stays in Paris after the war to pursue his dream of being a painter, where he befriends French singer Henri Baurel and grumpy American pianist Adam. He’s ‘discovered’ by rich benefactor Milo Davenport, an American lady who won’t take no for an answer. By chance he meets a beautiful French girl Lise Dassin and falls head-over-heals in love with her, completely oblivious to the fact that she’s actually the girl his friend Henri is in love with.
But while the characters are all here and are true to the original, An American in Paris has been re-invented. Lise’s an aspiring ballet dancer, Milo is the ballet’s benefactor, Adam composes for the ballet and Milo gets Jerry a gig as the set designer, so the whole thing focuses on a climactic dance performance – a production within the production, replacing the movie’s famous ballet dream sequence.
And this is post-war Paris and Jerry is an ex-soldier, so why not actually talk about the war that has just flattened Europe? The production starts with Nazi flags and bread-lines and the Parisians viciously attacking a collaborator. Jerry (Robert Fairchild) says he doesn’t want to talk about the fighting, but at one point he bursts out about how it felt to have his friend’s brains land on his lap. Adam’s a Jew, and jokes about his landlords not taking any rent out of guilt. Milo reminds an uncomfortable ballet maestro that he’ll have a funding gap now the Nazi money is gone. When the electricity goes out in a café, the Parisians dive to the floor to avoid an imagined bombing attack. An American in Paris has gained a new depth.
But as Jerry and Henri (Haydn Oakley) finally manage to convince grumpy Adam (David Seadon-Young) you can’t be miserable all the time, there’s plenty of comedy here (especially from Zoe Rainey, who makes Milo into a far more likeable character). The war is over; music and dance are here to cheer people up – and so this production becomes a riot of movement and colour and song.
Leanne Cope (Lise) and Robert Fairchild are breath-taking dancers. The moments when you’re really watching magic on stage are their duets, where they seem to be halves of a whole, with perfect chemistry. To have two first-rate ballet dancers in the lead roles is a treat: Fairchild was a Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet, while Cope was a First Artist at the Royal Ballet here in London. But the two are also impressive actors – and the singing isn’t half bad either.
An American in Paris works in George and Ira Gershwin’s original numbers, from I Got Rhythm to ‘S Wonderful to Love Is Here To Stay. But Wheeldon’s production also opens up the Gershwin songbook and borrows numbers from earlier Fred Astaire movies: I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck, They Can’t Take That Away From Me. Fairchild really does have a touch of Gene Kelly about him as he takes on the classics, but Astaire is in the mix too.
Stage musicals run the danger of being clunky: “Here’s the acting bit, and now we’re going to do the set-piece singing-and-dancing bit, and then back to the acting”. But An American in Paris is seamless. It flows along and suddenly you find yourself in the middle of a musical number, without the storyline ever grinding to a halt.
The dream sequences also move the story along as we get to see the characters’ real hopes and dreams and personalities. Take, for example, Henri’s tentative rendition of I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise on the stage of a Paris nightclub, which segues into a glorious fantasy performance with glittery silver-clad ladies and men in tails. Or how he’s joined in his dream dance by composer Adam (“it’s my song”), who has lost his war-inflicted limp.
This seamlessness is, in part, down to Bob Crowley’s set design which allows the stage to transform constantly. At times he uses video projection to create Paris on stage, but this is more than a lazy short-cut: reflecting the fact that Jerry sees the city with an artist’s eye, the projection is animated with brushstrokes as the scene is painted in. And then – at the drop of a hat – the stage can be physically transformed into the bank of the Seine, or a ballet studio, or a suite at the Ritz.
Rhythm, music, laughter, comedy, dance, romance and artistry – who could ask for anything more?
Sumptuous, enchanting, theatrical gold: An American in Paris takes the West End by storm
With its astonishing balletic choreography and lavish, romantic sets, An American in Paris has arrived in London after leaving critics and audiences around the world in raptures.
The 12 Tony-nominated show follows a young American soldier in Paris striving to make it as a painter in the aftermath of war. His chance encounter with a young Jewish dancer burdened by her past leads to romance, which is played out through brilliant dance routines and a roster of classic Gershwin songs.
An American in Paris is directed and choreographed by renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet. Not surprisingly, audiences are thrilling to some of the most spectacular and original dance routines ever seen on the West End stage: “Balletic choreography that at times takes your breath away,” says Ann Treneman writing in The Times.
Complimenting the choreography are seven-times Tony Award winner Bob Crowley’s set designs, which help to take the audience on a magical journey through the City of Light encompassing art, friendship, romance and love. “The glimmer of light on water reminds one of Monet, there is more than a touch of Renoir’s rainbow palette in a masquerade ball and the bustling boulevards, while the geometric shapes and vibrant colours in the final ballet evoke Picasso and the paper collages of late Matisse,” says Michael Billington in The Guardian.
Inspired by the Oscar-winning MGM film of the same name, the show features many of George and Ira Gershwin’s timelessly popular songs and music, including I Got Rhythm, I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise, The Man I Love, They Can’t Take That Away From Me and ’S Wonderful.
This breathtakingly beautiful production features its original, award-winning Broadway stars, and an exceptional company of 50 actors, dancers and musicians.