New musical An American in Paris has arrived at London’s Dominion Theatre fresh from winning Tony Awards on Broadway, giving a confident and dazzling trip back to Hollywood’s golden age of singing and dancing movies.
This stage version features the same music as the original 1951 Oscar-winning film, with famous classics by the Gershwin brothers; the songwriting team whose music dominated the Jazz Age of the 1920s. With such historical roots, it’s unsurprising to see a sea of white-hair in the audience at the preview performance. But this new London musical needn’t be the reserve of the over 60s, there is plenty for a young audience interested in vintage 1940s fashion and style, faultless dance, music and excellent theatre.
We see Jerry (Robert Fairchild), an American ex-soldier, now a struggling artist who has fallen in love with Paris after World War II. He and his two musical friends Henri (Haydn Oakley) and Adam (David Seadon-Young) are searching for their big career breaks. But when they all unknowingly fall for the same French woman, young aspiring dancer Lise (Leanne Cope), a tricky love triangle develops, accompanied to music.
The story is thin, unfolding like a comic book, but the narrative is merely a coat hanger with which to hang the glittering jewels of this production – the mesmerising musical numbers. Gene Kelly played the lead in the film version and we see Fairchild filling his boots effortlessly. In ‘I Got Beginner’s Luck’, Jerry causes flirtatious havoc, distracting Lise in the perfume shop where she works. Fairchild owns the stage with controlled energy, combining masculinity with elegance and precision.
Through the crossfire of frustrated feelings, we see three different types of love: unrequited, convenient and real. Beyond Lise’s skin-deep prettiness, fragile demeanour and dancing talents, it is hard to relate to the three men’s obsession with the slightly dull young woman. But beyond the limits of her character, Cope holds the stage with a hint of a coy Audrey Hepburn.
Milo Davenport (Zoë Rainey) provides much needed contrast to the fay Lise, playing the rich older woman who tries to seduce Jerry, declaring ‘love without money isn’t romantic like the opera … it’s stressful.’ The pair head out on the town in a psychedelic fantastical night of partying, complete with paintings dancing in their frames; just one example of the bold use of dazzling colours that makes every scene jump off the stage, matching the garish block colours used by Hollywood in the era.
The pièce de résistance is the jaw-dropping ‘I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise’, a sumptuous display of top hats and tails and chorus girls in silver sequinned outfits. You will be transported to the MGM studios of the 1950s.
This new musical follows in the wake of some very long-running productions at Dominion Theatre, including We Will Rock You, which ran for 12 years. An American in Paris may indeed find a welcome London home for years to come. As a celebration of the musical-film genre that once dominated Hollywood, the show goes beyond merely imitating the form, but compliments it with its own standalone style and energy.