An American in Paris review: The spirit of Gene Kelly is revived in this explosively raucous musical

Steve Hogarty
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An American in Paris

In this award-magnet of a Broadway transfer, an American soldier decides to stick around in France after the war and winds up bonkers in love with a Parisian ballet dancer. He relentlessly harasses her over the course of several brilliantly buoyant music and dance routines until she eventually falls for him, too.

This is a supercharged musical that rattles through George Gershwin’s back catalogue, roughly adapted from the Oscar-winning Gene Kelly movie of the same name. Breakneck set design powers the show from start to end, from an opening passage-of-time montage in which stage-dominating swastikas are hauled skywards to be replaced by the billowing French Tricolour, to a giddying and lavish scene in which we’re instantly teleported from a smoky basement jazz club to the bright lights and flashy-feathered splendour of a packed-out Manhattan music hall.

When the set isn’t flying around the place (and everybody momentarily stops hurling themselves through the air) the plotting is endearingly old fashioned. Fusty even, at times. A shy young dancer is the focus of the affections of three suitors. She’s betrothed to one of them, the son of the wealthy benefactor who’s funding the show in which she’s to star.

The other two are the Americans, one a composer and occasional fourth wall breaking narrator, the other a GI turned starving artist, played by leading actor Robert Fairchild. He’s a New York City Ballet leading light and, alongside his co-star Leanne Cope, the pair are mesmerising to watch perform.

The pace occasionally slows to a trudge as a few too many characters dance feet first into this low-stakes love pentagon, but An American in Paris is repeatedly elevated by its sparky song and dance routines, reaching a euphoric high during the show’s climactic and beautifully choreographed ballet sequence.

An unexpectedly energetic and joyously fun piece of musical theatre, An American in Paris feels simultaneously classic and breezy-fresh.

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