Shall We Dance?

An American in Paris, 2nd January 2018.

An American in Paris had been on my theatre wishlist since it first transferred to London’s West End, but it wasn’t until the closing performances were announced that I finally got round to booking tickets (in somewhat of a panic).

Very briefly, the story follows a dancer, Lise, and the three men who are in love with her. Based heavily around dance, as well as a beautiful Gershwin score, An American in Paris has been updated from the 1951 film to incorporate the effect of the recently ended Second World War upon Paris, and the healing nature of music, dance and love.

The Dominion Theatre in London is a big space to fill, and a single character on stage with a piano is an unusual start for a big budget show. As the stage transformed into post-war Paris, however, all preconceptions melted away. I am ashamed to say I was woefully lacking in knowledge as to the style of the show, other than the leads being plucked from highly esteemed ballet companies, and was swept away by how the variety of dance genres aided the narrative. The opening scene, depicting the poverty and desperation of war juxtaposed with the hope of a new beginning, was a particular highlight.

Shall we give in to despair
Or shall we dance with never a care?

An interruption in the first half saw Leanne Cope, who originated the role of Lise, taken ill and replaced by Kristen McGarrity. After an understandably wobbly first few bars of ‘The Man I Love’, McGarrity naturally fell into the part and provided a graceful, poignant take on the character. Ashley Day’s interpretation of Jerry Mulligan, whilst arrogant, was carefully built to reveal layers of a personality haunted by war and confused by the love seemingly barred to him. For me, however, the standout performance came from Zoë Rainey’s portrayal of Milo Davenport, the wealthy American benefactor of both Jerry and the ballet. An assured characterisation and beautifully rich voice combined to bring moments of comedy and emotion in a true musical theatre star performance.

🌟 Personal Highlight 🌟

I Got Rhythm is my favourite of the Gershwin songbook and the staging for the number certainly didn’t disappoint (me at least). A raucous cafe scene interrupted by a power cut, and the characters’ fear bred by the recently finished war, movingly noted the setting without being obviously signposted to the audience. The inclusion of a power-creating bicycle and a toe tapping percussive break served to make this one of the biggest and best numbers in the show.

A s’wonderful start to the new year.

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