I think I saw theatrical magic last night. Yes, I have already seen some amazing shows this year, – Moulin Rouge and The Wedding Singer spring immediately to mind. But neither of those had the impact on me that An American In Paris had me. Not only did the show have a number of ‘how did they just do that on stage right in front of me’ moments but I found myself so engrossed in the story that I spent the entire intermission wanting the curtain to go back up.
Based on the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly An American In Paris follows what happens when soldier Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild – Brigadoon) decides to stay in Paris after the Nazis have been driven out at the end of World War II. When he decides to stay he has a chance meeting with a woman on the street, whom he later finds out is named Lise (Leanne Cope – Coppelia), and then meets a gifted young piano player named Adam Hochberg (Jonathan Hickey – Are You Lonesome Tonight).
As Jerry works on his artwork Adam works with Henri Baurel (Sam Ward – Jesus Christ Superstar) who dreams about going against his parent’s wishes and becoming a cabaret star. But as the three realise their dreams maybe coming true thanks to the career driven Milo Davenport (Ashleigh Rubenach – Anything Goes) they also all unknowingly fall in love with Lise, who we discover is a gifted young ballerina who is about to be the star of Milo’s latest production.
The first thing I have to say about An American In Paris is that through it I have discovered that Christopher Wheeldon (The Nutcracker) is one of the most gifted directors that we have modern day theatre. What he has done with An American In Paris is nothing short of spectacular – he has created a show that looks so amazing that you could see it night after night and still notice something different each night.
You now very early on that this is going to be a show with a difference. When a piano suddenly disappears on stage underneath a Nazi flag turning into a French flag you realise that Wheeldon’s magic here is something that we have never ever seen on an Australian stage before. The imagery that appears not only behind the actors and actresses but also around them gives the piece a real cinematic feel. Whether it be Adam playing piano in a cafe while an apartment building looms behind him or the amazing props and sets that make up the shop that Lise works in this production brings war time Paris to life in front of you in an amazing way.
Wheeldon also allows the production to incorporate both musical theatre and ballet together brilliantly. Now I will admit that I am a huge musical theatre fan but I am not the kind of person that will go out of my way to watch ballet, yet here I found myself enthralled when the production went deeply into its ballet side. If anything this production gave me a deeper understanding ballet that I have never had before.
What really won me over there though where the characters and the actors playing them. It was a stroke of genius to bring both Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope here to play Jerry and Lise. Both have cemented themselves in these roles on both Broadway and in the West End before coming to Australia and it is easy to see why. Both shine in their roles and I feel like I am extremely lucky to have been able to watch the pair of them in their famous roles… it is something that I will treasure forever.
Credit must also be paid to those around them in the productions as well. Sam Ward often steals the show with his flamboyant portrayal of Henri, and the fact that he knew how to reign in the character in the more sensitive scenes shows what a talented actor he really is.
Also sensational was Ashleigh Rubenach who plays Milo so well that you can’t help but feel for her despite the fact that she maybe the reason that Jerry and Lise never get together, while Jonathan Hickey was simply stunning as Adam Hochberg. He put in a genuine and natural performance to bring the character to life and I have to admit Adam soon became the character that I was looking out for the most on stage.
A gripping and engaging story brought to life but an extremely talented cast mixed together with some of the most amazing visuals that we have seen on stage in Australia make An American In Paris a show that certainly cannot be missed.