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An American in Paris, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review and pictures

Theatre & Comedy | Published:

I’ve never seen an audience leave the Festival Centre with bigger smiles on their faces. Some were singing, others swinging their hips as they walked. I half expected to see a couple pirouette their way over the zebra crossing to the car park.

Henri (Haydn Oakley) and company

Truly international magic had been at work in the heart of Market Drayton. Filmed live at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End, An American in Paris came to us with New York jazz-age jive wrapped in French joie de vivre. We had exhuberant colour and thrilling movement from start to finish.

Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, this was a musical with ballet in its bloodstream.

Adam (David Seadon-Young) at piano, Jerry (Robert Fairchild) and Henri (Haydn Oakley)

It was inspired by the 1951 MGM movie of the same name and opened on Broadway in 2015. Packed with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, it uses the classic Broadway device of characters in the show putting on a show – in this case a ballet.

The musical opens with swastikas giving way to tricolours on the streets of Paris, women queuing for bread, a collaborator set upon by the crowd.

GI Jerry stays on the Left Bank after being de-mobbed, to become a painter. Fellow veteran Adam is glued to his piano, composing. French ex-resistance Henri wants to become a nightclub singer in Manhattan.

They join in a spectacular street dance to I Got Rhythm, reprised by candlelight after a blackout, and become close friends.

Lise (Leanne Cope) and Jerry (Robert Fairchild)

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“Light flooded in,” says Adam, “and Paris began to breath.”

In an exquisitely clever version of ’S Wonderful, the trio of men sing their love-struck hearts out without realising they have all fallen for the same woman - Lise, who works in a department store but has trained in ballet.

Wealthy art collector Milo Davenport, with a roving eye on Jerry, commissions a new ballet for Lise, to be composed by Adam, with sets designed by Jerry.

As the love story deepens we’re treated to a host of spectacular set pieces. There’s a mischievous jive to Fidgety Feet at a soirée dedicated to classical ballet. And Henri’s vaudeville turn is transformed into a fantasy extravaganza at New York’s Radio City as he sings I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise complete with canes, top hats and be-feathered showgirls.

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Lise (Leanne Cope) with Jerry (Robert Fairchild)

It culminates in the triumphant performance of the ballet-within-the show, danced to Gershwin’s jazz poem he called An American in Paris.

To perform with passion, Lise must tap into her own passion – cue another fantasy transformation as Jerry joins her.

It’s danced by the Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope, who has been all doe-eyed and bob-haired, and Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet. He’s played up the handsome, good-hearted guy with beginner’s luck. They come together in breathtakingly beautiful movement as their love is recognised and celebrated.

That just leaves a final swirl alone together down on the riverbank.

The pure joy of it sent the Festival Centre audience out into the street as if walking on air.

By John Hargreaves

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