The famous Vincente Minnelli film ended with a daringly long ballet sequence and it is as if this new stage version, almost double the length of the Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron classic, has taken this as a cue for a classical dance-heavy show. Its savvy, poetic cocktail of French chic and Broadway pizzazz is a perfect Christmas treat for the ballet-mad Parisians. Time will tell if this ambitious Franco-American co-production wows New York but it certainly deserves to become a repertoire standard.
References to the film only go so far — this is a complete rewrite with an altogether more satisfactory structure. Craig Lucas’s wisecracking book fills out characters, changes names and shifts the story to the Liberation. Lise is a dancer and has three male suitors not two. There are teasing, but mercifully unforced, quips on the German occupation.
It starts with a stage-wide Nazi flag magically switching into the French tricolore and director Christopher Wheeldon’s inspiration bubbles along in similar vein all evening. Bob Crowley deserves a gong for his striking sets and costumes — the Galeries Lafayette scene alone shows how to conjure up atmosphere with the minimum of props — and the fluid scene changes, against fetching video backdrops, keep the action flowing.
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, the romantic leads, both have classical dance backgrounds and have had to train hard to confront the triple threat of singing, dancing and acting. They pull it off magnificently but there remains (for the moment) the tiniest of gaps with the supremely confident delivery of seasoned Broadway pros, notably Max von Essen’s touching Henri, the best voice on offer, and Brandon Uranowitz as the endearing, self-deprecating Adam. Jill Paice is perfect as the poor little rich girl who tames her libido with arts patronage and Veanne Cox brings the house down as Henri’s corseted mother.
Brad Haak’s conducting has all the necessary swing but the 21-man band cannot match the symphony orchestra the Châtelet usually fields in musicals. Gershwin’s climaxes really ride on robust high violins. Even so, I would beg, borrow or steal to see it all again.
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