Lyric Theatre, New York; 24th May 2016 – The Circus Diaries Goes TransAtlantic
Cirque Du Soleil’s glittering Broadway debut, Paramour, is an intricately cut diamond whose combined shining facets threaten to dazzle completely at times. It is musical theatre. It is circus. It is film. Most astonishingly, none of these genres appear beholden to or eclipsed by any of the others, each allowed to bring its unique qualities to the Lyric Theatre’s stage. The combination, under the visionary direction of Philippe Decouflé provides a more exciting spectacle than any one aspect could achieve alone.
The show, set in the Golden Age of Hollywood, at times feels so crowded it conjures the spirit of the giant three-ringed circuses that enjoyed their own golden age in the United States. With some scenes taken from Decouflé’s previous CdS production Iris, Paramour includes live filming and projection, acrobatics, ensemble dance, a script that wittily trips the fine wire between homage and pastiche, and a score that takes us via dramatic percussion, silver screen flavoured showtunes, and tender harmonising duets.
For, after all, Paramour is a love story. As the black and white design of the first moments burgeons slowly into colour, and we meet AJ Golden (Jeremy Kushnier), singing starlet Indigo (Ruby Lewis), and composer Joe Green (Ryan Vona), we realise the tag-line concept ‘Love in Technicolor’ is deeply integrated into the fabric of the show.
The plot hinges on which growing love the eruption of riotous colour represents, as Indigo finds her way into the world of films. Is it for her new life as a movie-star? For AJ, the Director who made it all possible? For her original beau and musical collaborator Joe?
Just as the musical accompaniment to the show plays between the filmic categories of diegetic and non-diegetic – appearing one moment as part of the current action, and the next as an overlaid soundtrack – the circus activity plays across the same semi-permeable boundary.
At times, the physical skills lurking within the 38 strong cast are brought out as choreographic enhancement to chorus line dance numbers, at others as acts of spectacle in their own right. They are used to progress the story, and they are used to illustrate psychological tensions of the three main characters.
The dramatic core of the show is revealed brilliantly through the musical number Love Triangle. While AJ, Indigo and Joe face each other off, their fantasy counterparts perform a choreography that cuts right to the heart of Indigo’s dilemma. On the trapeze, which rises and sinks during the number, Samuel William Charlton embodies AJ, on the floor is Martin Charrat as Joe and, caught and tossed between them, is Myriam Deraiche as the torn soul of Indigo. AJ can take her to extreme heights, as he grips onto her and controls her flight. Joe has his feet firmly on the ground, but their hand-to-hand acrobatics allow her more freedom and a shared intimate connection. We already get the essential conflict before sung lyrics join in to reiterate.
The story of Paramour is AJ’s retelling of the events that led him to an award for Best Director, for his film of the same name in which Indigo was his muse and star. There are moments in his portrayal that are reminiscent of Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane, and of PT Barnum’s disregard for mere fact. This is a history created for us through the magic of art, and film, and circus, which allows the fantastic and the concrete to collide until we must find our own essential truth from within the mix. Even the classic Hollywood hill sign reads HollywoodLand, hinting at the diaphonous reality behind AJ’s narrative.
There is a clown, in the form of Cooper (Nate Cooper) who, under his suave appearance to match the rest of the glamorous cast, manages to be the comically bumbling yes-man in every scenario, from cocktail waiter to camera-man. There is an extraordinary doubles straps routine from identical twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton, which becomes even more thrilling in the way it launches unbidden from within a more classical Broadway song to soar over our heads. The pair swing out above the stalls on individual straps, then come together on a double sling in which one brother balances by his armpits in a crucifix position while the other moves and poses around him. Finally they perform hand-to-hand moves together whilst supported only by their strap.
A ring juggle from Kyle Driggs, where his body and props are subject to both physical and digitally projected manipulation, introduces a dream sequence of raging jealousy where it’s hard to know if the nightmare is AJ’s or Joe’s. Later, a film noir chase scene involves swirling projections of live-filmed action and dynamic sets, before turning into a roof-top chase where the Joe character morphs into another body double (Joe McAdam) for a trampoline and parkour extravaganza that’s like watching old street fighting platform games. Earlier highlights include a living strip of spooling film, playing out before us through a series of cell-like rooms and identically costumed actors, and the imagery of an onstage photo shoot manipulated live to project the company onto classic film posters.
All in all, there is an exorbitant amount of innovative visual excellence here, and a story with real emotional pull that also manages to keep it’s climax hidden until the very end (no spoilers here). Last time CdS produced a show that played a New York theatre, it was only able to sustain a very short run. If there is any justice in the entertainments industry, Paramour should be around for a long time to come.