An American in Paris is a dance musical with grace, grit and Gershwin: a winning combination if ever there was one. Based on the 1951 film of the same name that starred Gene Kelly as a demobbed American soldier in Paris and Leslie Caron as the French ballerina he falls in love with, it is now transposed to the stage, with further songs added from elsewhere in the Gershwin catalogue, and even more ecstatic dance, from jazz and tap to ballet.
While 42nd Street will soon explode again on the stage of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane that is a feast of tap-dancing, and Carousel, soon to be revived at the London Coliseum features a couple of famous dream ballets, An American in Paris is an explosion of movement; even the design, with Paris conjured in line drawings that are sketched into Parisian landmarks before our eyes, just as our aspiring artist hero Jerry would be doing as he walks the streets of the city, feel like they're dancing.
The director and choreographer is Christopher Wheeldon, a former principal with the Royal Ballet who choreographs for many international companies from New York City Ballet (where he was a dancer and resident choreographer) to the Bolshoi and also his own Morphoses/Wheeldon Company, is one of the greatest contemporary choreographers around. But making his musical theatre directorial debut, he confidently handles the complex demands of folding in narrative (the book by Craig Lucas expands on the film to give some of the back story, particularly in terms of the Nazi occupation of Paris and its effects on the city) and the songs to advance it.
That narrative follows American GI Jerry Mulligan as he decides to stay on in Paris after the liberation to be a painter, where he 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.
The story is played out against a composite score of Gershwin classics, some of which have also been heard in such shows also fashioned from their catalogue as Broadway's My One and Only (1983), Crazy for You (1992), Nice Work if You Can Get It (2012) and most recently A Damsel in Distress (at Chichester in 2015). But if there's inevitably a bit of deja vu to hearing songs like I Got Rhythm and 'S Wonderful yet again, they've been given a welcome new home here.
And in a cast strong on ballet trained dancers -- at least ten of the ensemble hail from training at the Royal Ballet School with others from the ENB School and Scottish Ballet -- it is triumphantly led by New York City Ballet dancer Robert Fairchild and the Royal Ballet's Leanne Cope as Jerry and Lise, who prove to be effortlessly assured singers and actors as well as brilliant dancers. They -- and the show itself -- are sheer enchantment.
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What the Press Said...
"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."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"This impassioned love-letter to art, to life, sharpens into focus the whirling physical attachment between Fairchild’s impeccably fleet Jerry and Leanne Cope, just divine as the bob-haired Lise, so adroit you feel she could walk down the Champs-Élysées en pointe. Together, the pair take you to Oh La La Land. As the song says: Who could ask for anything more?"
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"This lavish, romantic show blends ballet and musical theatre — to frequently gorgeous effect."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard