Review by Michelle Fisher
As an avid musical theatre fan and lover of other live performance arts, it is always interesting to see when art forms combine to see whether their merge heightens or dilutes the impact of their individual performances.
Opening this week at Sydney’s Theatre Royal, ‘An American in Paris’ is a fine example of when this merger goes right. Put simply, the show is a pure delight to the senses.
Full kudos must go to the Australian Ballet for making this revamped version of George and Ira Gershwins’ classic truly shine, and shine so brightly with Australian talent. The perfectly executed dancing is remarkable and certainly proves itself to be the stand out medium within the show.
To pull off this dance feat takes a team and in this instance, is heightened by the exceptional collaboration between the original choreography of Christopher Wheeldon and the Australian team of artistic directors, dance arrangers and choreographers. Making this choreography shine are the talented cast, led the night I saw it by Cameron Holmes (Jerry Mulligan) and Dimity Azoury (Lise Dassin) who excel in the balletic scenes.
The score includes some of the old favourites from George and Ira Gershwin and whilst musically some of these may be a bit old fashioned for the younger theatre set, it is always a pleasure being wrapped up in some wonderful memories and songs that have spanned the decades and continue their strong hold of the musical theatre canon, such as “I Got Rhythm“ and “Swonderful.“
Holmes and Azoury are both alternates in the production and whilst their dancing is superb, they were slightly let down by their vocals. This show is demanding in that it calls on someone trained in both ballet and musical theatre who is able to excel at both equally and simultaneously. Whilst neither yet had this perfectly mastered, it should be noted too that to fill the shoes of THE Gene Kelly is no small thing and again, kudos is to be given to Holmes for rising to the challenge.
Sam Ward as Henri Baurel, Ashleigh Rubenach as Milo Davenport and Jonathon Hickey as Adam Hochberg are all respectively excellent in their roles with solid musical theatre chops, fabulous characterization and a strong command of how to express their characters, and compliment them, through dance. Each was a delight to watch, my personal favourite being Ward who sang, danced and acted his way from comedic parts to a full on 1950s extravagant dance number worthy of Radio City Music Hall and the dream in his head.
Fans of the 1951 film may be surprised by some large plot differences, but I won’t spoil the story…you’ll have to see the show for yourself to see what happens. What remains the same is that An American in Paris is a story of finding love, happiness, and a new lease on life. Set in beautiful Paris the story is filled with possibilities, fate, Parisian sensibilities, an epic love triangle and, as such, lots of romance. Set post World War II is a beautiful remembrance of a time when art could once again flourish and creatives could express themselves through visual arts, performance, dance and music.
One of the highlights of the production is the phenomenal set designed by Bob Crowley and 59 Productions. The combination of physical set pieces and amazing animation and AV design bring the world to life and propels you through Paris and the world of Lise’s dance through Jerry’s drawings. In this show, the set is a character in and of itself. Today, many shows seem to use this combination of AV and physical set and An American in Paris is comfortably one of the highest achievers I have seen of this particular type of design.
This musical is not going to be for everyone due to its heavy inclusion of ballet and because of the classic nature of the Gershwin score. However, for lovers of the classics, of dance and of seeing very well crafted theatre performed to a high standard, I recommend that you head on over to the Theatre Royal whilst this beautiful show is in town.
Image Credit: Darren Thomas