REVIEW: An American in Paris at the Arts Centre Melbourne

Review by Taylor Kendal

It’s quite a rare feat to find a musical that can capture the essence and the warmth of old school ‘golden age’ classics, and yet still have that contemporary feel that will engage old and new audiences alike. An American in Paris does exactly that, and so much more. Just premiering its penultimate stop on its Australian tour, the musical is inspired by the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, adapted seamlessly for the stage by Christopher Wheeldon, book by Craig Lucas, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. This stunning production is now entertaining Australian audiences around the country thanks to GWB Entertaining and The Australian Ballet.


The story takes in 1945. The Second World War is over, and Paris is now liberated and free of Nazi occupancy. The once bright and bustling city of lights is devastated, and still reeling from the war, and is searching to find itself in this new world and recapture the essence that made Paris what it was. American Soldier Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild) has fallen in love with the city and decides to stay and pursue his passion for art. The choice to tear up a train ticket is a catalyst for a new life; finding kindred spirits, inspiration for his work, and something hen ever thought possible, a chance at love. Amongst his newfound acquaintances, Jerry meets Lise Dassin (Leanne Cope), a beautiful and talented dancer who longs to become a prima ballerina, all while fighting conflictions of the mind and heart and keeping her own secrets close to her chest.


An American in Paris is not your traditional musical, in a sense. Much rather, it is a ballet with elements of a musical woven through the scenes by way of score, musical numbers, and script. However, do not let that put you off. At the very heart of this show is the warmth you feel with a good, all-encompassing feel-good musical; that sense of light and whimsey you can often feel with say the golden age of musicals, like The Wizard of Oz and Singing in the Rain.


The Australian production is comprised of some of the most talented performers I have ever seen. Leading the cast are Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope, the talents who originated the roles of Jerry and Lise in the original Paris, Broadway, and London productions. Fairchild is the quintessential male lead, one who is worthy of stepping into the shoes of a character created by the incomparable Gene Kelly. A triple threat to the highest standard, his effortless dance style, captivating voice and the charm and charisma he exudes makes him a very lovable leading man. Cope is breathtaking in her portrayal of Lise; elegant and captivating, while always keeping that air of mystery about her, she is quick to capture the hearts of both the audience, and the men in her life. Sam Ward is wonderful as aspiring nightclub performer Henri Baurel, Jonathan Hickey as composer and pianist, and our narrator, Adam, Ashleigh Rubenach as American philanthropist Milo Davenport, and Anne Wood and David Whitney as Madame and Monsieur Baurel, an influential couple who struggle with the changes after the upheaval of their lives during the Occupancy.


The cast is rounded out by a company of such incredible homegrown talent that quite frankly have given me a new appreciation for the art of ballet and dance and made me fall in love with musical theatre all over again. A huge congratulations to Cameron Holmes (Jerry alternate), Dimity Azoury (Lise alternate), Sarah Bourke, Olivia Castagna, Eli Cooper, Emily Corkeron, Jasmin Durham, Amba Fewster, Christina Gibbs, Corey Herbert, Francis Lawrence, Lilyana Lloyd, James Macalpine, Mitchell Mahoney, Chloe Malek, Jake Mangakahia, Joe Meldrum, Joe Miller, Thomas Norman, Benjamin Obst, Sydney Patterson, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Edward Smith, Annie Stanford, Rachael Ward and Emma Whitefield.


One cannot talk about a show such as this without discussing the choreography. Though I am not a dancer by any means, I have a deep love and appreciation for those that can, and the high calibre and passion of the craft that is displayed in this company is for lack of a better word, flawless. Every member of this company is so immensely talented in their own right, but working together, it is seamless in every scene; how they can take something as seemingly mundane and depressing as standing in a breadline, or the horrible fate of a remining Nazi sympathiser into something that is so emotive and so powerful without a single word spoken. I was truly mesmerised by the opening scene (Concerto in F). The amount of storytelling and emotion that was conveyed through dance along was stunning; soldiers returning home, loved ones embracing after so long, and the overwhelming relief of liberté coursing through the Parisian streets.


One spectacular element of this performance that I absolutely adored was the set design and the use of technology and visuals to help tell the story. For a narrative that is told predominantly through dance, the added element of projections not only advance the plot, but truly give a sense of being in the streets of Paris (something I have experienced myself and miss greatly). The use of projected visuals used on set pieces to change the location and the mood, moving from Parisian streets to the banks of the Seine and everywhere in between were so effortless and magical, and truly acted as though it were a character itself. A particular feat was transporting the audience from a Jazz bar in Montmartre to the bright lights of the Radio City Music Hall in New York was so effortless in transition, the entire number was breathtaking.


There really are so many things I could say about An American in Paris. I could spend paragraphs and paragraphs talking about the music, the dancing, the set design, the musical numbers, but that would be far too long to read. It’s simply best to go and experience it for yourself.


An American in Paris is currently playing at the State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until April 24 before moving to The Theatre Royal Sydney.


Image Credit: Darren Thomas