An American in Paris feels more like a Sadler’s Wells show than a West End musical, with its focus on ballet it is much slower than West End audiences will expect (especially compared to Disney’s Aladdin around the corner) but it is a beautiful show, which puts the focus on movement rather than flamboyance.
Jerry (Robert Fairchild) is an American GI who has decided to stay in Paris rather than return home. He meets up with fellow war hero Adam (David Seadon-Young), now playing piano and writing songs for French textile heir Henri (Haydn Oakley), who is yet to tell his family that his true intention is to become a singer and not to run to the family’s company. They also all love the same woman, talented Monte Carlo ballerina Lise (Leeanne Cope). What follows is not so much who will get the girl but who does the girl want. Fairchild and Cope, who transferred with this production from Broadway, are fantastic dancers and can be fairly compared to their film counterparts Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly but the scenes feel much stronger when they are dancing together, rather than when they are acting together.
There was some great support from Jane Asher as Henri’s mother, who puts a lot of pressure on her son to not be a bachelor and Zoe Rainey as Milo Davenport, an American who becomes Jerry’s patron for this art.
The lack of set is quite distracting; it is a production that relies on video projection and moving scenery and it feels so disappointing to see so much empty space. I was surprised to see that Bob Crowley was involved as his set for Disney’s Aladdin, as well as previous work for the National Theatre because apart from one scene it simply doesn’t feel like the flamboyant shows that West End audiences have come to see. This does have its plus points; it could not only become the show for people who hate musicals but it puts dance front and centre in a musical, at a time where acting and songs have been the main draw. It also has lots of long dance sequences, which would make it perfect for tourists or audiences who may not have strong English skills.
This musical is much slower than West End audiences may be used to but it is a faithful adaptation of the 1951 film and is a showcase for some beautiful choreography.
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