Paramour continues at the Lyric Theatre, New York.
Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
You can scoff at the hoary plot, clunky lyrics and preponderance of pulsing music, but Cirque de Soleil’s Paramour delivers a feast of glitzy entertainment that may well be worth the price of a Broadway ticket.
Paramour marks the Broadway debut of the Montreal-based gargantuan producer of circus entertainment with a show that attempts to fuse – in the words of creative guide and director Jean-François Bouchard – “the essence of three different worlds – musical theatre, circus arts and cinema”.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the circus arts that provide the big thrills, executed by a gasp-inducing ensemble of 31 incredibly skilled acrobats, trapeze artists, tumblers, jugglers, dancers and what have you. Circus acts have been introduced into musicals before, most recently in the Diane Paulus-directed revival of Pippin. But not to this extent.
Providing the tent to enclose this wealth of stamina and skill is a narrative taking place in ‘The Golden Age of Hollywood’. No specific dates are mentioned, but we can assume from props and costumes we’re talking about the 1930s, although references stretch well beyond that. The director and conceiver is Philippe Decouflé, while story is credited to West Hyler, also listed as associate creative director and scene director. The maze of credits lists no book writer.
The tale is a mangled mash-up of A Star is Born (all four versions, including the first entitled What Price Hollywood?) and just about every Busby Berkeley musical churned out under the banner of the Warner Brothers.
It centres on a Svengali-like director, AJ Golden, who we meet on the night he is winning an Oscar, right after a big and snazzy opening tap dance number, which I’m sure is meant to assure us, right from the start, that this is a Broadway musical and not just a circus variety show.
Golden proceeds to tell us about the flick that won him the prize, a film (he insists his movies be called “films”) called Paramour and how he found its leading lady, named Indigo, obviously not because of her flaming red hair. He discovered her singing in a speakeasy, a place full of broken dreams.
Golden, played with determined aplomb by Broadway veteran Jeremy Kushnier, tends to speak in an unending chain of clichés. For her part, Indigo sings a big ballad of yearning, reflecting her belief that she is “destined for something more”, Golden is wowed…the girl has “it” plus the kind of face that makes a guy “want to go out and rob a bank”.
As work on the film moves apace, Golden insists that Indigo marry him when the shoot is finished. But Indigo has fallen in love with a composer and piano-player from her speakeasy days, Joey. Counters Golden: “You’re a force of nature, and you’re going to throw it all away for a two-bit piano-player.”
She gives in to Golden’s demand, but then the plot dissolves into total silliness, as she escapes from his clutches on a publicity tour with a climactic film noir-like chase on New York rooftops, combining great acrobatics and video.
Indigo’s movie provides the rationale for some of the momentous production numbers, filled with breathtaking displays of circus artistry. In it, she plays a woman who rises to stardom by appearing in a cavalcade of great roles, from Cleopatra to Calamity Jane, and one imaginative number has her replicating the posters for such films, ranging from Mata Hari to Sunset Boulevard.
Another highlight is the filming of the Cleopatra sequence, which is dominated by the duo-straps aerial act of the twins Kevin and Andrew Atherton, spinning over the stage and locking bodies in truly death-defying manoeuvres.
Another showstopper occurs when Golden, Indigo and Joey have a face-off to sing about their predicament – ‘three hearts in a tangle’ – in a trio aptly entitled ‘Love Triangle’. The three sing their hearts out, but it’s the physical demonstration of extreme and precise trapeze work by Martin Charrat, Myriam Deraiche and Samuel William Charlton that grabs the scene.
Despite all the scene-stealing distractions that surround her Broadway debut, Ruby Lewis manages to impress as Indigo, with a spirited performance that demonstrates humour as well as a singing range that can go from Broadway belting to opera-like heights.
Ryan Vona makes a personable Joey, while Kushnier’s Golden gamely keeps the story moving along in admirable fashion, even as he has to plough through the script’s thicket of trite pronouncements.
The songs for the show are the generally serviceable work of composers Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, a team also known as Bob & Bill, while Andreas Carlsson is listed as lyricist and co-composer. Some numbers are infused with an appropriate period flavour, while others push fervently along, as circus music does, mostly to provide accompaniment to all the physical action.
The show demonstrates its desire to be loved by Broadway ticket buyers with trunkloads of flashy costumes by Philippe Guillotel and eye-popping sets by Jean Rabasse.
The choreography dutifully but easily works in all the circus stuff that eventually takes over. Daphné Mauger is the choreographer, but there are also Shana Carroll, who is associate creative director and acrobatic designer and choreographer and Verity Studios, credited with flying machine design and choreography.
Despite their often feeble nature, the musical theatre accoutrements of Paramour succeed in giving context to the circus acts, making them stand out more sharply than when presented simply as a parade of skills against some vague theme, as in the other Cirque de Soleil shows I’ve seen.
The Broadway ambience gives them – as AJ Golden might say but somehow didn’t – more oomph. At the same, the circus acts give Paramour a reason for being. Without them, Paramour might well be booed off the stage, despite its grand sets and costumes.
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