Wednesday, September 9, 2015

An American in Paris, Broadway, Palace Theatre, 5 Sept 2015

The pursuit of education means that for the next year or so, I will have the amazing arts scene of the American East coast as my muse! To kick off the transition, I headed straight to Broadway for An American in Paris as the perfect piece to bridge my British and American artistic experiences.

The remarkable visuals in this musical reaffirm my faith in the powerhouse trio that is Christopher Wheeldon, Bob Crowley and Natasha Katz. As the set pieces swirl about the stage, amidst projected sketches of the Paris skyline and a sea of dancing Parisiens, I cannot wait for my fellow audience members to know the magic I have known. Crowley and Katz create backdrops that are, as usual, incredibly grand yet never overwhelming. Large wooden boats hang down over a digital Seine at Lise and Jerry's first date; arcs set with triangles conjure the Chrysler building as Henri conjures dreams of Broadway. While at first it seems like every scene has a brand new set, it is really a collection of building facades that have been cleverly permeated and refreshingly lit, and modular walls that form any kind of alleyway or room.

Within this setting, Wheeldon choreographs like never before. One could hardly guess this is his Broadway debut, as he deftly punctuates script and song with movement. He introduces a unique style of dance that is blend of ballet and broadway -- a kind of pizzazz-laden elegance that flows perfectly from the music, and impresses even in the abstract hilarity that was the gag piece "The Eclipse of Uranus". Wheeldon also makes excellent use of one of my favourite features of his choreography -- small, token moments that have disproportionate volume. This is exemplified best by Lise's introduction, where a single sustained arabesque amongst swaying pedestrians shows immediately how special she is to Jerry.

However despite the visual spectacle, what I sadly found lacking in Paris was character development, leaving my emotional engagement about as muted as Lise was. Leanne Cope certainly has no trouble singing, yet she was given curiously few lines of song or spoken word. While she spoke primarily with her beautiful lines and winsome lyricism, it wasn't enough for me to understand Jerry's, Henri's, and even Adam's infatuation with her. In addition to this love square, writer Craig Lucas also embellished the story with new characters and motivations, such as Henri's family and their role in the war, or his own secret musical ambitions. While these were well-intentioned touches, which did succeed in lending this adaptation individuality, the amount of time dedicated to pure dancing means everything else must be left rushed or half-cooked. Fortunately however, Jerry Mulligan was duly moulded into an endearing casanova, primarily thanks to a winning performance by Garen Scribner.

The performance received a standing ovation at its end, something I suspect it gets at most showings, with audience members raving about the beautiful choreography. I gave my ovation surprisingly begrudgingly however, as I left feeling so unlike my Wheeldon experiences of the past. He has certainly mastered the look of a broadway blockbuster, but it was a safe bet on his dance prowess. It is of course a logical introduction, but I look forward to future productions that I'm sure will pack a far more solid punch as he feels his way around.

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