I am in love. This is ‘the one’.

I have been waiting years for a musical of this quality, of this range of imagination and musical excellence, and of this sheer unadulterated beauty to arrive in London. Happily – so happily, An American in Paris is it.

It is a thing of extraordinary beauty. For the first ten minutes, no-one sings a word as the music underscores flying scenery and projections like the sketchbook of the show’s soldier-artist-hero Jerry Mulligan first in chalky black and white and then gradual painterly colours as Paris blossoms after war as in spring sunlight. It’s simple, elegant, and a crowning achievement to Bob Crowley’s long and illustrious (see what I did there) design career.

It has an extraordinary leading man. Robert Fairchild takes the big stage with movie-star looks, an authority and a balletic grace not seen since … well, I struggled to define such a dancer’s impact in London or on Broadway: Fairchild is more impressively versatile than either Adam Cooper in the 1995 Matthew Bourne Swan Lake in or Tim Flavin in On Your Toes in 94, and more technically precise and genuinely inspired than Tommy Tune in that ‘other’ Gershwin show My One and Only back in 83. Pick your own favourite for him to be better than.

It has an extraordinary supporting cast. The second male leads are not put remotely in the shade because Haydn Oakley’s command of comic timing with splendid singing makes him rightly the go-to leading actor who never-quite-gets-the-girl and in David Seadon-Young director Christopher Wheeldon and casting director James Orange have recognized a marvellous talent and another rising star: his is an outstanding performance as the guy who would like to get the girl but seems too shy.

It has a great girl. She is Royal Ballet’s own Leanne Cope home from her Broadway stint in An American in Paris, and taking the movie’s character, played by Leslie Caron, a stage further. In this version Lise is a ballet dancer as well as a shop girl. This allows Wheeldon‘s choreography to soar so much higher – driven by both ballet and jazz but infinitely better than either Caron’s frantic pirouetting or Gene Kelly’s manic tapping in the movie.

It has Jane Asher, for Christ’s sake – looking drop-dead gorgeous, keeping up with the dancing, and having far too much fun for a septuagenarian in the role of Oakley’s mother – a fond but disapproving martinet who glancingly asks if his failure to pursue the girl stems from ‘an interest other than in the fairer sex’.

It has rhythm, it has music, and because the score is by George and Ira Gershwin whose songs written almost ninety years ago still outrank anything from the pens of even such luminaries as Lloyd Webber, Jason Robert Brown, or Stiles and Drewe. Classics like ‘But Not For Me’, ‘Stairway to Paradise’ and ‘S’Wonderful’ as well as delicious surprises like ‘Fidgety Feet’ are buffed with clever new harmonies and orchestrations by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott and come up fresher than daisies, time after time. Yes, I know that’s by Jule Styne.

In the wake of the outrage on Westminster Bridge, even though London isn’t necessarily suffering like the Blitz it may be in need of a boost. An American in Paris is your boost: it would be impossible to leave that theatre not smiling.

Apart from the scenery, the production values are immensely high: just look at the scene in the perfume shop where suddenly the girls emerge dressed in ‘New Look’ fashion – it’s for seconds, but it’s meticulously well detailed. As a paying customer, you can see where your money has been spent – and there’s a lot of money behind this show: look at the lovely photo-rich £8 souvenir programme, there are more producers credited than cast members.

I have been trying to think of a negative, something that could be tweaked or improved, but for once I am at a loss. This is perfection. I want to return.

 

 

until 30 September