Set in a time of post-War optimism, An American In Paris does feel like it’s locked in time. Though the musical’s tagline hints at a “timeless” story, the heart of its charm lies in its old-school texture. Consciously throwing back to the aura of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Christopher Wheeldon’s re-imagination of the 1951 Gene Kelly film is evidently enamoured with its surroundings. As a result, you feel transported to a different era when watching the musical play out. Indeed, the musical hinges on the joys of escapism.
The story itself is simple enough. Jerry Mulligan, a former-GI turned aspiring artist, falls completely in love with the beguiling Lise. Yet Jerry is not the only man vying for Lise’s affection, and something of a Love-Square develops. The plot is quite thin and consciously old-fashioned. The way that Lise is both deified by others yet constrained in her own actions does feel out of step with contemporary storytelling and does have the capacity to jar.
However, the story is merely a conduit for the musical to leap from one musical number to another. Set to the music of the Gershwins, Wheeldon’s show is alive with colour and vivacity throughout. From the almost bawdy, ultra-Parisian couching of ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’ through to the Jazz Age celebration of ‘Stairway to Paradise’, the musical boasts a multitude of sumptuous numbers.
The tricolour of France is made Technicolor, in turn evoking not only the original musical but also The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and more. The crowning glory to all of this is the final ballet number, a flowing piece which captures drama and poignancy within each transition.
It’s a musical which is delivered with panache and acted soundly. Robbie Fairchild anchors the story as Jerry and somehow manages to fill the Gene Kelly-shaped shoes he was given, whilst Leanne Cope gives Lise a vulnerability which increasingly morphs into strength and conviction. The rest of the ensemble fulfill the necessary stereotypes, and Haydn Oakley clearly relished the role of Henri Baurel, the French socialite who dreams of performing on-stage.
Therefore, An American in Paris is consciously old-fashioned, something which gives it both charm and limitations. Indeed, its story speaks to a specific cultural and historical moment. To revisit that doe-eyed optimism is hugely enjoyable as a piece of escapism, and the production values give the musical an unrelenting energy. The story may not be ground-breaking, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a hugely enjoyable production.