Synopsis: Well-produced show reimagined from the 1951 Gene Kelly Hollywood film. It has gained 5-star reviews across the board from most critics. To my taste, it was perhaps a little light on the songs at the start and a little too heavy on the ballet in the end. But by the second half the show had really taken flight.
An American in Paris is ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's first stab at directing a musical. And it is largely a success. He shows a love of the source material - Gene Kelly's dancing and Gershwin's tunes are done great justice. The plot has perhaps turned a little darker with more hints of Nazi-collaboration and closeted-homosexuality than I remember from the film. But that all adds more light and shade to the four-way love-triangular plot. (Can a triangle have four sides? In musicals I guess it can.)
We are in Paris just after the war. A GI wants to be an artist, another GI wants to be a composer, and a Frenchman wants to sing jazz in America. Centre stage is a ballet dancer who is looking for her big break. He loves her, he loves her too, oh and so does he. You get the picture. They all love her. So whom will she choose? My money is on the one with the biggest jeté. For all the principle parts are played by ballet stars. And 'ballet' they do. A lot. It is good toes, bad toes all the way in this show.
We did enjoy ourselves alot and the performances were all solid but... my main quibble might be that it took over 15 minutes before we got to hear our first Gershwin song. And this is a musical after all. And while we wait for the singing there are lengthy interludes with just ballet - no talking, no acting, no songs - just ballet. Solid, athletic, ballet. Now don't get me wrong, I like ballet as much as the next West End Wendy but it made for a rather ponderous show when you are waiting for the next line and the lead actor has to do another few circuits around the stage spinning his head like The Exorcist on fast-forward before suggesting they both go for a walk along the Seine.
And while I'm quibbling I'd have to say that the Dominion Theatre is big theatre with a very big stage. It needs to be filled with sound and filled with light to make a great show work and both these qualities were rather lacking in the first half. Turn it up please! Neither the should-be-infectious "I've Got Rhythm" nor heart-felt "The Man I Love" really took flight as they were too quietly performed and you could bearly see the action though the dimly lit auditorium.
However things were very, very different in the second half. The show suddenly took flight. The band played up, the lights shone brightly, the scenery settled down, the back projection ignited like a firework, and the big production numbers simply blazed on the stage. It was funnier, slicker and the plot simply tore along. In the second half Gerswin's tunes came thick and fast and the whole show soared. It was like a different show. Even the 20 minute ballet towards the end seemed to have earned its bright Piet Mondrian stripes.
Kick, turn, kick-kick, turn - feathers, top hats, show tunes - tap dancing, show girls - kick-kick, turn. Wow! It was wow. It was gorgeous. This is what we came to see! Gershwin tunes writ large on a big stage, played by a big band with dazzling dancing.
Now if only the first half had been as good as the second I'd have joined the 5-star reviewers in my fulsome praise.
Verdict: If you like Gershwin and you love ballet - this is the show for you.