’An American in Paris’ gets a worldwide cinema release on 16th May, following it’s successful run on both Broadway and the West End (the latter closing only in January). The cast, crew and a few lucky reviewers were given a sneak preview on Sunday at Vue Leicester Square to see how this reimagined version of the classic MGM movie translates back onto the big screen in it’s staged form.
The original movie was inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition ‘An American in Paris’ by George Gershwin and the music of this homage is also entirely made up of the Gershwin brothers’ back catalogue.
Bob Crowley’s beautiful design and the frankly incredible use of projections by 59 Productions immediately make an impression as the sketches of our hero, Jerry Mulligan (played by Robert Fairchild), inspire the boulevards and architecture of Paris, brought to life gradually with colour and light as set pieces fly in and are projected onto simultaneously.
The show begins with the gradual thawing and healing of Paris at the end of Nazi occupation. American Soldier Jerry decides not to head back to the US but to stay and pursue his passion: painting. As he walks the Parisian streets, he is bewitched by a mysterious girl who seems eager to get away from him.
Jerry is clearly the luckiest fella going, as within his first day as a civilian he gets offered free lodging and the opportunity to design the set for a new ballet, written by his recently acquired friend, housemate and fellow US army veteran Adam Hopberg (David Seadon-Young), who is also the shows narrator). If that weren’t enough, who should arrive at the ballet audition Jerry has tagged along to than the mystery girl, Lise Dassin (Jill Paice), a dancer who is given the lead role.
So far, so implausible, but the magic of this piece is the fairytale nature of the story. Our two veterans are joined by native Parisian Henry Baurel (Haydn Oakley) who form an improbable love square – one more side than a triangle – with Lise, each of them in love with a girl but none realising it is the same girl until the end of the first act.
The show is filled with highlights: ‘I Got Rhythm’ starts as a dirgeful hymn until Henry and Jerry convince composer Adam to cheer it up a bit. This transforms into a joyous ensemble piece, with the locals piling into the café to join the number.
As Jerry, Robert Fairchild truly channels Gene Kelly in the wonderful “I’ve got Beginner’s Luck”, where he pursues Lise from her audition to her place of work and does some fantastic comic perfume-counter-dance-business. Henry’s Jazz Club debut is another highlight, with his tentative and humorous performance suddenly transitioning to a Radio City Music Hall belter, complete with tap shoes and dancing girls.
Zoe Rainy also impresses as Milo Davenport, Jerry’s wealthy benefactor, who mistakenly falls in love with her protege and does an impressive job belting out ‘Shall we Dance’. In truth, every cast member is impressive, as is the way the book writer, Craig Lucas, manages to imbue the piece with more depth and pathos than the original MGM movie.
Something that may divide cinema audiences is the ballet sequence towards the end of the show, which although not seventeen minutes long (as in the original Gene Kelly movie) is quite lengthy and perhaps not the most entrancing part of the piece. What does is impress though is the incredible ‘Pas de deus’ between Lise and the Jerry of her imagination, in which Jerry does an incredible combination of leaps and turns around Lise, travelling around her an inordinate amount of times (I think I counted six) before lifting her about his head. His composure and balance after all that twirling was nothing short of breathtaking. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography reaches it’s zenith here.
The filmmakers have gone to great lengths to capture the magic of the stage production, with some sections filmed at Pinewood to allow for closeups during big song and dance numbers. The overall effect was to transport me from the cinema: I truly felt as if I was watching the live theatrical production, albeit in a far comfier seat. For those, like me, who feel bereft that they missed the show whilst it was at the Dominion, or for those who loved it when they did, ‘An American in Paris’ is definitely worth a trip to the cinema. In our troubling times, it offers a welcome slice of escapism.
Reviewed by Jody Tranter