In An American in Paris, Christopher Wheeldon one-ups Hollywood’s musical-film hit La La Land with a musical-theatre-ballet triple threat.
The story follows an American GI Jerry Mulligan played by the fantastic Robert Fairchild in a post-war Paris, as he pursues Lise, played by Leanne Cope, a ballet dancer reluctant to receive his affection. Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon attempts to encompass Paris in all of its art – music, painting, dance and romance – a passionate view of Paris that many still hold on to today.
Indeed, the production exudes an aliveness that is both nostalgic and romanticized, and transports the audience with its spectacular dance sequences. The set design, managed by Bob Crowley, is almost like choreography itself with panels effortlessly moving around for each scene. Movement is obviously important for this production and no attention was spared in ensuring fluency – especially in the magical outfit changes. In fact, it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to call the show a sort of Disneyland for adults.
The difficulty of such an ambitious production that brings together many art forms is that it becomes overwhelming at times and even distracting, although it could be argued that that was the intention. Fairchild joined the cast from the position of principle dancer at the New York City Ballet Company and the emphasis on ballet brings to question the significance of the theatrical aspect of the production. The two leads – Fairchild and Cope, come from dance backgrounds and both made their Broadway debut in An American in Paris. The theatre side of the production doesn’t pose a barrier; however, as the acting doesn’t seem particularly demanding, and Wheeldon’s priorities evidently lie in the ballet.
While much of the show portrays a vivid picture of a thriving Paris, its war-torn past does not go ignored, and Wheeldon balances a cliché yet audience-pleasing romance with heartache and responsibilities of reality. Christopher Wheeldon makes ballet accessible as an art form through this combination production with an effortless choreography that weaves into the narrative. While some have argued that American in Paris isn’t an intellectually profound production, at the very least it is some beautiful ballet and an aesthetically enchanting evening.