Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, Book by Craig Lucas
Reviewed by Justin Clarke
The masterful thing about theatre is the way that forms can collideto mould together something inherently new and yet familiar. An American in Paris is the latest musical to do so, bringing Sydney audiences George Gershwin’s orchestral tone poem through the stylings of narrative ballet. The orchestra, choreography, set and graphic design, ensemble and its two powerhouse leads come together to create something that can only be described as magical.
Based on MGM’s beloved 1951 film of the same name, An American in Paris is a rich tale of finding love, resilience and your true artistic calling in a changing world. Director Christopher Wheeldon’s choice to change the setting from 1950’s Paris to the end of World War Two allowed the creatives to show Paris emerging from the shadows of its Nazi occupation, and the rich beauty it was trying to reobtain. From here we follow American soldier Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild) as he lands in the world of Paris’ ballet society, as well as falling head over heels for the talented Lise Dassin (Leanne Cope). Lise’s dreams of becoming a renowned ballet dancer are aided by her fiancé Henri Baurel (Sam Ward), who himself dreams of making it as a musical performer in America. Meanwhile, injured composer Adam Hochberg (Jonathan Hickey) also becomes infatuated with Lise, making for a classical movie musical love square.
The real star of the show here, however, is the ballet. If there was ever any doubt that ballet couldn’t make it into the mainstream musical theatre zeitgeist, it is dashed with every second that passes in An American in Paris.
George and Ira Gershwin’s orchestral jazz music is lifted off the page and soars in the Sydney Theatre Royal aided by its two leads, Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope. Fairchild embodies the same leading man qualities of Gene Kelly while still making Jerry his own three-dimensional character. Cope when first taking on this role questioned if she herself could even sing, however there was no doubt that Lise is the role she was born to play. Lise’s demure innocence shines through every note Cope sings. When the two perform together, the chemistry is electric but somehow exudes comfortability – the pair’s experience on stage together is rock solid.
Bob Crowley’s set and costume design, coupled with Natasha Katz’ lighting and 59 Productions projection design paints a grandiose picture for the stage that is suitable for the Louvre. Mirrored panels are swiftly pulled on and through the stage by the ensemble to become diners, restaurants, dressing rooms and more. Show stopping fantasy tap numbers light up the entire theatre as we’re transported to a fantasy Radio City Music Hall. The backdrop of the stage projects a shattered ruin of war before falling and instantly becoming the red, white, and blue of the French flag. Quick changes will make you believe there has to be a cast of thousands waiting in the wings at any given moment. The spectacle shown to every detail is masterful.
The real star of the show here, however, is the ballet. If there was ever any doubt that ballet couldn’t make it into the mainstream musical theatre zeitgeist, it is dashed with every second that passes in An American in Paris. Wheeldon’s choreography pays homage to the intricately crafted music of the Gershwins in the best way. Fairchild and Cope’s partner work is gorgeously told with a great zest of romance and charm to portray underlying emotions in their characters.
The jazz rhythms and the soaring melodies are reflected in the many shapes, lifts, and leaps of the outstanding Australian ensemble. Each body lands its own mark in numbers such as “Swonderful’, ‘Stairway to Paradise’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’. However, it’s the moments when the cast snap together to become one moving body that make you pay attention and plaster a smile on your face.
An American in Paris truly has something for everyone, whether it be a gorgeously choreographed production, jaw-dropping set designs, exquisite ballet or a classic musical plot. For those who are new to the world of ballet still but still need your musical fix, this is the game changing production you need to see. To summarise the show, it’s…well…’SWonderful!
Images: Courtesy of Theatre Royal Sydney
An American in Paris runs at the Theatre Royal Sydney until 12th June before transferring to Perth’s Crown Theatre from 9th to the 27th July and finally Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide from 24th January 2023. Tickets can be booked via the American in Paris Australian Tour website.
Director and Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon
Music and Lyrics George and Ira Gershwin
Book Craig Lucas
Original Design Bob Crowley
Lighting Design Natasha Katz
Projection Design 59 Productions
Sound Design Kelvin Gedye
Australian Staging Hannah Ryan
Principle Dance Director (Australia) Sean Maurice Kelly
Associate Choreographer (Australia) Stuart Winter
Jerry Mulligan Robbie Fairchild
Lise Dassin Leanne Cope
Jerry Mulligan (Alternate) Cameron Holmes
Lise Dassin (Alternate) Dimity Azoury
Adam Hochberg Jonathan Hickey
Milo Davenport Ashleigh Rubenach
Henri Baurel Sam Ward
Madame Baurel Anne Wood
Monsieur Baurel David Whitney
Sarah Bourke, Jasmin Durham, Amba Fewster, Christina Gibbs, Corey Herbert, Francis Lawrence, James MacAlpine, Mitchell Mahony, Chloe Malek, Jake Mangakahia, Joe Meldrum, Joe Miller, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Edward Smith, Annie Stanford, Rachael Ward
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