An American in Paris/ Gershwin/ The Australian Ballet
Theatre Royal, Sydney
3 May 2022
Now that’s entertainment!
An American in Paris – A New Musical has opened its Sydney season and it’s an intoxicating hit. It’s inspired by, but nothing like, the 1951 movie classic, choreographed by and starring Gene Kelly based on the book by Craig Lucas. This new conception has already won four Tony Awards® and had long seasons on Broadway (opening April 2015) and in London’s West End (opening March 2017) after debuting at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris (December 2014).
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a product of London’s Royal Ballet, the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin have been adapted and arranged by Rob Fisher and a team of creatives to realise this nostalgic and undeniably fun piece of music theatre, produced in Australia by the Australian Ballet, GWB Entertainment and others.
Set in liberated Paris, the imagery is evocative of French aesthetics of the time and before, from Dior’s “New Look” silhouette to softly impressionistic backdrops, Piaf, luxury brands, snobby art galleries and the glamour of cabaret. The outstanding cast is replete with triple-threaters – performers who have equal skills in singing, dancing and acting. What is exciting to see is that 5 of these, including Cameron Holmes and Dimity Azoury, the leads in the alternative cast, are members of the Australian Ballet. Ballet takes a central role in this production.
Gershwin’s innovative music was anchored in his classical musical training which he infused with elements from jazz and blues, ragtime and Afro-Caribbean aesthetics. Likewise, Wheeldon’s choreography also draws on classical traditions as it incorporates other diverse elements. The production hinges very much on the skills of the two principals, Holmes and Azoury. Holmes is a dynamic presence on stage, a high-octane dancer with considerable singing ability who breaks into a series of jetés and pirouettes around the stage in the final ballet scene, reminiscent of Nureyev dancing Le Corsaire. Azoury, a principal artist with the Australian Ballet since 2019 impressed with her dancing, but was less successful with her singing, although her single solo The Man I love was etched with a naïve longing which suited her character. Holmes and Azoury conveyed a good sense of chemistry between them, especially in the sensual pas de deux in the final ballet scene.
The two other male leads, Sam Ward as Henri Baurel and Jonathan Hickey as Adam Hochberg the pianist, complete the trio, not unlike the three Parisian garret-bound characters in La Bohème. Hickey is not required to dance, but he is charged with narrating some of the tale. Both he and Ashleigh Rubenach as Milo show off their serious vocal ability in their duet But Not For Me. Sam Ward’s comedic talent and vocal chops come to the fore in the infectious step-kick sequins and feather cabaret extravaganza I’ll Build A Stairway to Paradise -finally a tap-dancing number! Anne Wood is perfect as the dour society matron Madame Baurel
It’s a fabulous ensemble of singers and dancers, with sumptuous costumes (which hint at the art of Mondrian in the final ballet scene) exquisite, ever changing digital and real sets, (with a hint of Miro) and a swinging orchestra playing evergreen music – the great hits of George and Ira Gershwin like I Got Rhythm, S’Wonderful, and They Can’t Take That Away from Me – who could ask for anything more?
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©
An American in Paris plays at the Theatre Royal in Sydney till 12 June 2022.
Image: An American in Paris at the Theatre Royal in Sydney. Image credit Darren Thomas