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AN AMERICAN IN PARIS – West End

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★★★★★
Dominion Theatre, London

THEY GOT RHYTHM… OH YES!

This is the big one, the Broadway spectacular, the one where rom-com meets top-flight ballets in more costumes than you can blink at; where dream-sequences explode into surreal immensity.

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Credited as “inspired by” the 1951 film with its immortal Gershwin songs and score, it follows the two struggling American artists and Paris socialite with showbiz dreams who are all in love with the same girl; but it stresses – as we more comfortably can today – the idea of a Paris and its people still shaken by years of Nazi occupation: the Jewish dancer Lise hidden by Henri’s family feeling a duty to marry him, Jerry trying to forget the day his buddy’s brains “spilled in my lap”, a massive power cut in the battered city interrupting the first joyful “I’ve got rhythm”, sudden street violence in the first number.

But the darknesses are only sporadic, and for the most part this is pure feel-fabulous Broadway. Though one couldn’t be prouder that both direction and the astonishing choreography – ballet and evocative modern and one rousing, crazy old-Hollywood tap number – lie in the hands (and feet) of our own Christopher Wheeldon of the Royal Ballet (and the NYC ballet too, but never mind that). His ability to use dance sequences for pure dramatic purpose and tension, and to break them with musical-theatre skill into moments of dialogue, is stunning, elegantly dovetailed. His gift (with the designer, and we’ll come to that) is also to lift realism into the craziest of fantasy.

In the Galerie Lafayette Jerry’s love-dance goes wild, morphing the whole scene into the fantastic, but not forgetting the indignation of the shopwalkers. When Henri’s inept song-and-dance number in the jazz club turns into his glorious dream of Radio City Music Hall, it all happens before our eyes, the ensemble surging forward in tapping triumph. As for the final long ballet near the end, framed in the bright shapes of Rothko, Miro, Picasso which are echoed in the costumes, it is breathtaking.

Robert Fairchild of NYC ballet is Jerry, likeable in character and an astonishing dancer; opposite him our own Leanne Cope of the Royal Ballet as Lise, singing for the first time too, a miracle of grace. Hadyn Oakley’s Henri is fun (we are more than allowed to surmise that he is in fact gay, or as his Mum (Jane Asher, acidly funny) puts it has “romantic interests extending beyond the fairer sex”). David Seadon-Young is a good moody Adam.

But what blows you away, scene after scene, is also the astonishing design: it’s the creation of Bob Crowley, with projection designs by 59 Productions and Natasha Katz’ lighting. Dreamily without fuss screens slide, rise and fall, swerve at angles to become Parisian streets, corners, alleys threatening or romantic; frames and blocks become paintings, bright Picasso colours; for Jerry and Lise a serene Seine unfolds; for backstage at the ballet we peer out at our seemingly mirrored conductor.. Everything is done to millimetre perfection, so that the simple rom-com tale winds through a world imbued with American romanticism, artistic yearning and Parisian elegance. It takes your breath away. Observe the diversity of mice, below…

 

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rating five

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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