MUSIC OWL AWARD: 5th – staging
When I went: 3 April 2017
Location: Dominion Theatre, London
Performers: Leanne Cope (Lise), Ashley Day (Jerry – alternate), Alyn Hawke (Henri – alternate), Zoe Rainey (Milo), David Seadon-Young (Adam), Jane Asher (Madame Baurel), Julian Forsyth (Monsier Baurel)
Creative team: George Gershwin (music), Ira Gershwin (lyrics), Craig Lucas (book), Christopher Wheeldon (director and choreographer), Bob Crowley (set and costume design), John Rigby (musical director), Stuart Oken, Van Kaplan, Roy Furman, Joshua Andrews, Michael McCabe (producers)
Approximate price: £69
Special points: Dance sequences, charm
Best bit: Extended dance sequence in Act 2
If I could change one thing: One or two more strong songs
An American in Paris is based on the 1950s film and does have an old-school feel of charm and elegance, with a lack of the cynicism present in more modern musicals; it is similar in tone to Half a Sixpence and Mrs Henderson Presents. It has often been compared to the 2016 film La La Land and it does share a generally optimistic, romantic feel, a love of extended, abstract dance sequences and a focus on jazz and balletic music. Like La La Land, the plot centres on romance, with the character of Lise pursued by Jerry, Henri and Adam in different ways, and the ‘rich girl’ character of Milo providing some mild competition for Jerry’s affections, against the background of post-WWII Paris recovering after liberation from the Nazis.
The drawback of this in the form of a musical is that there is not much peril or real conflict in the plot, and if you are a fan of more song-heavy musicals like I am, you might leave the theatre wishing there were one or two more strong songs and a touch more drama. However, An American in Paris still works well as a dance-heavy musical if the performers are up to the task, and some of Gershwin’s best tunes are brought to the forefront.
The set design was truly amazing, with beautiful projections onto the staging and great use of large and small props to change the colour and tone of each scene. The effects were skilfully executed, reminiscent of the flawless transitions and embellishments of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The costumes were also gorgeous and made me want to update my spring wardrobe.
The lead actors were effortlessly good both in the big song numbers and in the extended dance sequences, with Ashley Day (understudying as Jerry) demonstrating particular flair. In the performance I saw, ensemble member Alyn Hawke appeared as Henri and brought plenty of humour and vulnerability to the role. Leanne Cope’s Lise was graceful and elegant and Zoe Rainey had a great belt in Shall We Dance.
If you’re a fan of dance-heavy musicals, I would highly recommend An American in Paris; if, however, you prefer your shows sung-through or super-modern, look elsewhere.