Music & Lyrics
by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin – Book by Craig Lucas
choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon with set and costume design by Bob
GWB Entertainment in association with The Australian Ballet, Stuart Oken, Van
Kalan and Roy Furman.
Royal Sydney. 29th April to 12th June.
on 5th May reviewed by Bill Stephens.
When one is experiencing
a production so beautifully conceived and performed as this, it’s difficult to
keep ones critical faculties engaged and not just sit back and simply savour.
have thought that it was possible to improve on Gene Kelly’s filmic
masterpiece? Well director/choreographer,
Christopher Wheeldon has taken up the challenge, combined blissful dance with
the Gershwin’s classic songs and jazz-infused classical compositions with Bob
Crowley’s elegant set and costume designs to create this exquisite theatrical
presentation which at times feels like a ballet with words and music
has given the storyline a slightly darker undertone by extending the
back-stories of the major characters, and setting the action in Paris
immediately after the Nazi occupation during the Second World War, which provides
unexpected parallels with the current situation in the Ukraine, referenced
briefly in the opening sequence by the treatment of a Nazi collaborator. This
coincidence could not possibly have been foreseen when this production was
first conceived in 2014.
production commences with the stage bare except for a piano. A Gershwin-like
character named Adam Hochberg takes the stage and begins to narrate the story.
As he does Gershwin’s familiar music begins to take over and the stage is
filled with swirling scenery, busy
Parisians, and glimpses of brief accidental encounters between a young
serviceman and a beautiful young woman who keeps disappearing among the crowd.
This is the
first of several balletic sequences sprinkled throughout the show, for which
Bob Crowley’s finely choreographed scenic set-pieces blend seamlessly with the
ensemble of superb dancers to create a dreamy filmic background for the story
of a young recently discharged American serviceman who arrives in Paris to
fulfil his dream of becoming an artist, but who soon finds himself in
competition with two other suitors for the love a beautiful young ballerina.
advantage of the Wednesday and Saturday matinee schedules to see both casts. Australian Ballet Principal, Dimity Azoury, comes
from Queanbeyan, and as a Queanbeyanite myself, I was keen to see her response
to the challenges of musical theatre.
with her Australian Ballet colleague, Cameron Holmes, alternate performances of
the starring roles with the original Broadway and West End stars, New York City
Ballet principal, Robbie Fairchild, and Royal Ballet dancer, Leanne Cope, and I
was keen to see both casts.
|Leanne Cope and Robbie Fairchild
and Cope originated the roles of Jerry Mulligan and ballet dancer, Lise
Dassin, and have performed these roles around the world since then, including
on Broadway, London’s West End and in Paris. Miraculously their performances
seem just as fresh as if they were performing them for the first time.
wonderful dancers. Handsome, elegant and romantic with more than a touch of the
Gene Kelly joie de vivre, and an even better singing voice, Robbie Fairchild
was a joy to watch throughout. Whether
leading the company through the frenetic Fidgety
Feet or romancing Cope in the gorgeous An American in Paris ballet which climaxes the show, Fairchild’s
superb technique and easy stage presence makes his every move a joy to watch.
Cope, paying tribute to the gamin quality of Leslie Caron without copying her, imbuing
every step with subtle nuance, most
particularly during the An American in
Paris ballet when her subtle
gear-change from dancing well to dancing brilliantly as if inspired when
Fairchild’s Jerry Mulligan suddenly
appears as the lead dancer in the ballet, is wonderfully depicted. She’s also a
lovely actor with an interesting timbre in her voice which adds an affecting fragility
to her rendition of the Gershwin classic, The
Man I Love.
|Dimity Azoury and Cameron Holmes
brought to tears by the masterful performances of Fairchild and Cope at the
matinee, I could hardly wait to get back into the theatre to see Dimity Azoury
and Cameron Holmes take on these roles. I was not disappointed because both had
been encouraged to bring their own interpretations to the roles rather than
copy the originals. Their choices were intelligent and appropriate, creating a
is a superb dancer and her performance as Lise Dassin, while not yet as nuanced
as Cope, was none the less similarly affecting. Considering she has spent her
entire career thus far transmitting her emotions through dance alone, her
singing, especially for the The Man I Love
solo was sweet and delicately phrased, as was her delightful French-accented
Cameron Holmes brought a youthful exuberance to his performance creating an
impetuous Jerry Mulligan. Though short in stature, Holmes is a fire-cracker
dancer and his sequence of flying grand jetes as he circled the ensemble in the
An American in Paris ballet drew
enthusiastic, spontaneous applause from the audience, and his partnering of
Azoury was affectingly passionate and thoughtful.
|The American in Paris Ballet.
American in Paris” is much more than just a two-person show. As wonderful as
those two pairings are, they are surrounded by a superb ensemble cast of
outstanding actors, singers and dancers,
among which Ashleigh Rubenach is a stand-out as the pushy glamorous American millionairess
who you’d love to hate, but can’t help loving. Jonathan Hickey as the charming, ironic Gershwinish
composer who lacks the confidence to declare his love of Lise Dassin;
fine-voiced Sam Ward as Henri Baurel, the wealthy Jewish would-be entertainer
who actually becomes engaged to Lise Dassin, but for the wrong reasons; Anne Wood
effortlessly capturing the laughs as Henri’s dignified, overbearing mother,
Madame Baurel; and David Whitney as Henri’s supportive father, Monsieur Baurel
all offer beautifully modulated performances.
Add to this
an ensemble of superlative dancers, including another Australian Ballet
soloist, Jake Mangakahia, impressive as Lise Dassin’s partner in the An American in Paris ballet, and of
course George and Ira Gershwin lush score, brilliantly adapted and arranged by
Rob Fisher, and given a lush performance by an excellent Sydney Orchestra under
the attentive baton of Music Director, Vanessa Scammell, and you have a
production guaranteed to send you out into the busy Sydney traffic with a
spring in your step and perhaps a tear in your eye.
ask for anything more?