George and Ira Gershwin’s hit Broadway musical An American in Paris has high kicked its way on to the London stage at The Dominion Theatre in a production directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. This is absolutely a dance-centric musical play, that puts so much energy into the dance, but leaves everything else feeling a tad lackluster.
It’s the end of the Second World War and American soldier, Jerry Muligan, decides to remain in France to pursue his love of painting. He befriends a fellow American, Adam Hochberg, and the son of a wealthy French couple, Henri Baurel. When he meets the beautiful ballerina, Lise Dassin, he falls in love, unaware that Henri has already proposed.
There is more of a plot, but you’d be forgiven if you missed any of it, as it’s given very little time at all, you’ll also struggle to find any kind of character development either. We have to be told in one line of a song that the ‘three musketeers’ are now friends. Such little time spent on the storyline means that you just can’t get invested in the central characters, and so it will make little difference to you whether Lise gets it together with Jerry, Henri, or anyone else for that matter, in the end.
The opening scene looks promising as far as staging is concerned, there’s a heavy use of projections, but then other London productions are utilising these projections to better effect at the moment. There are moments of beauty though, when real sets take over and some colour is introduced. Some amusing one-liners break up the long spells between musical numbers, others are less funny; “An enigma? Sounds like a skin condition”, but the occasional dodgy accent aside, it’s entertaining enough.
So, with so much else forsaken does the choreography compensate? In a word, yes. The dance routines are undeniably beautiful and tell more of a story than words. Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope are mesmerising to watch, especially in the titular ‘An American in Paris’ routine. But actually, the entire ensemble deserve recognition, along with a fine orchestra, for a production that is more ballet than musical theatre.
An American in Paris is a very conservative production, gentle to the point of fragility. The dance routines are indeed beautiful and the performers captivating, but everything else just feels left behind and a little forgotten. Intentional or not, too much has been sacrificed from this particular production, and save for a few big number dance routines, you are left desperate for a true show-stopper.