Reviewed on 12th April 2017
A Composer, Artist and Singer walk into a bar, the setting for the three lead males of An American in Paris meeting for the first time could sound like the beginning of a bad joke however the production running at the Dominion Theatre is as far away from a joke inside the theatre world and has some serious muscles to flex that amazes audiences.
Based on the 1951 Oscar-winning film of the same title the production started off it’s musical life in 2014 at the Théâtre du Châtelet for a limited run with a Broadway production in 2015 following suit at the Palace Theatre before arriving at the Dominion in 2017. Taking place in 1945 in the instant aftermath after WWII Paris is free of the Nazi influence and can breathe again which the production takes head on adding some gravitas that the film could not. The vision for director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon utilises upon the Gershwin music catalogue which Wheeldon marries with a story that allows the music to exquisitely be placed inside.
The story itself revolves around Henri, John and Adam who all fall in love with Lise, a talented ballerina who earns her place as a star for a new ballet that transcends her to be a free artist in France. As the production moves forward the love that each man carries for Lise manifests into different forms that is magnificent to behold. Amongst this story of love comedy entwines throughout the production that is very well thought out and executed that ensures the audience can laugh at the playful antics that the cast present.
This comedy and playfulness transfers into the choreography of the production that Wheeldon crafts in a stunning manner that the performers execute with extreme precision and class. I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck stands out by a hair’s length as a wonderful blend of fun choreography integrated perfectly to enjoy and move forward in the plot. The pacing that the production chooses is slow especially in the first half and audience members will notice this yet there are a lot of factors that in my view make this a very wise choice. The story itself breathes and sustains a main branch to be followed through yet there is a large range of subplot the story confronts which is complex yet due to the pacing the audience are allowed to take this in and process what has happened. The pacing also allows the truly astounding and magnificent set design to be taken in that is an astounding technical achievement made possible by 59 productions ltd. Scenic & costume designer Bob Crowley utilises upon projections to cast onto pieces of set that creates a transformation from a pencil sketch by an artist to a finished painting that is stunning to watch and is perfectly blended with the costume that Crowley uses in a very cinematic way with each character standing out uniquely yet blends in with the surroundings the characters find themselves in all across Paris. Lighting designer Natasha Katz must also be given praise for her work that complements Crowley’s work in a very rewarding manner throughout all the production that adds a shine to an already polished production. The music is the final key element that due to the pacing of the production is allowed to flex every single fibre of Gershwin fuelled muscle to truly gorgeous and voluptuous effect that is so beautiful to gorge on that is delivered with thirteen real musicians in a pit which makes me so exited to see as the magic that is added due to these musicians is simply breath taking to witness inside the theatre. Score supervisor, arranger and adapter Rob Fisher must be given credit for this achievement along with Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott who orchestrated the score.
These elements all together create the spectacle that audiences will love about the show especially inside I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise which for me was the show stopping moment all great musicals need that was delivered by the least likely character. This song is followed by the finished Ballet which is where pacing does become an issue, I understand the vision Wheeldon had for this scene in the momentous occasion where Lise realises her freedom and chooses the man she wants to love yet the length is very noticeable especially during the first section. Further still the music was missing it’s typical charm and beauty that all the previous numbers have captured which makes it more disappointing and forgettable. The one part of the Ballet that is unforgettable however is at the end where the design of the stage transforms into one more scenic masterpiece that An American in Paris conjures up countless times.
Overall An American in Paris is a beautiful production that audiences must pay attention to but this investment yields some truly outstanding rewards to be enjoyed. From outstanding scenic design to gorgeous exquisite music An American in Paris is like nothing else in London which is the greatest praise I can give to this production.