REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★.5

Released in 1951, An American in Paris starred Gene Kelly and marked the screen debut of young ballet dancer Leslie Caron. The film, which culminates in a 17-minute dance sequence, went on to win six Academy Awards.

Over 60 years later, a stage adaptation of An American in Paris, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, premiered at Paris’s Théâtre du Châtelet, an engagement that was followed by critically acclaimed and commercially successful seasons in New York (where it won four Tony Awards) and London (where it won an Olivier Award).

In January 2022, the musical version of An American in Paris began an Australian tour in Brisbane, before a season in Melbourne, and last week, the show arrived in Sydney, where it is playing the recently reopened Theatre Royal for a limited run.

With a book by Craig Lucas and using the music of George and Ira Gershwin, An American in Paris tells the story of an American soldier, Jerry Mulligan (Robbie Fairchild), who begins a new life as an artist in Paris and falls in love with a young French woman, Lise Dassin (Leanne Cope). Unlike the film, set in the early 1950s, the story in the stage musical takes place right after the Second World War (Lucas and Wheeldon “wanted the love story to play out in a Paris emerging from the shadow of the Nazi occupation”.) The musical also features all-new ballet choreography by Wheeldon.

The result is a stylish, sophisticated, and impeccably performed piece that brings a freshness and a contemporary flavour to the 1951 love story. Eschewing a frame-by-frame reproduction of the film has given An American in Paris a timeliness that, likely otherwise, could have been lost. Its emphasis on the French capital’s resilience as it emerges from a period of unchartered crisis feels apt as our global community navigates its way out of our own unprecedented times.

Leading the Australian production of An American in Paris are the two performers who led the show’s opening in Paris, on Broadway and on London’s West End. Fairchild, a former Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet, earned a Tony nomination for his performance as Jerry Mulligan, and it’s easy to see why his performance is so acclaimed. As the former soldier carving out a new life, Fairchild is hugely charismatic, and executes Wheeldon’s complex balletic movement expertly and effortlessly. There seems no better heir apparent to Kelly’s Mulligan than Fairchild’s.

Opposite Fairchild, Cope is an absolute delight as Parisian ingenue Lise Dassin. Cope (who was once First Artist at London’s Royal Ballet) is mesmerising and, like her co-star, her dancing is exceptionally skilful and elegant. In an early scene in a ballet studio, it’s impossible to look away from her, and in the show’s final minutes, her pas de deux with Fairchild makes for an epic conclusion. To top it off, both Cope and Fairchild are fine vocalists.

The international leads are well supported by a cast of impressive Australian performers, including five dancers from The Australian Ballet. Jonathan Hickey is particularly strong as Adam Hochberg, another American ex-GI pursuing a new life in Paris, while Ashleigh Rubenach proves to be perfectly cast as Milo Davenport, the smart and genial American art collector who vies for Jerry’s affections. Sam Ward delivers a thoroughly entertaining and endearing performance as Henri Baurel, a wealthy young Parisian man whose sights are set on a career on the stage.

On top of the performances, another standout aspect of An American in Paris is the visual space created by set and costume designer Bob Crowley, together with lighting designer Natasha Katz and projection designer 59 Productions. Projections are beautifully utilised in this production to artfully locate us in the City of Light. Projected images form to appear as though they’ve been hand drawn onto canvases, and it’s a lovely touch.

The Gershwins’ music is brought to life for Sydney audiences by a stellar orchestra that doesn’t miss a beat throughout the show’s 155 minutes and characterises the performance of each number with power, precision, and clarity.

The film may be over 70 years old, but An American in Paris on stage is an exuberant theatrical experience for audiences of all ages. Don’t miss the opportunity to see a world-class cast demonstrate with spectacular flair how stunningly ballet can be married with musical theatre, and how old stories can be refreshed successfully for introduction to new audiences.

Photo credit: Darren Thomas


AN AMERICAN IN PARIS –
 SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS

Dates: Playing now until 12 June, 2022
Venue: Theatre Royal Sydney (108 King Street, Sydney – beneath 25 Martin Place)
To book tickets for the Sydney season, click here
For further details of the Australian Tour of An American in Paris (including Perth and Adelaide season information), click here