New York City Theater
They fly through the air with the greatest of ease. But when they land . . . ! That about sums up “Paramour,” the busy Cirque du Soleil spectacle at the Lyric Theater, the same venue where another flying circus, “Spiderman,” thudded to earth. Cirque, with its various productions dotted around the globe, has never conquered Broadway. In an effort to do so, the organization’s creative team decided to fold amazing acrobatics into what passes for a traditional musical comedy.
Trouble is, the musical comedy part is a bomb with its silly, clichéd story, forgettable score and jokeless dialogue. The plot, a white-bearded tale of the triangular relationship among a megalomaniacal director, budding female star and talented musician, may remind you of such classics as “The Red Shoes,” minus its drama.
Rumored to cost $25 million, “Paramour” looks every penny, starting with a magnificent Art Deco set that would fit on the stage at Radio City Music Hall. In fact, the entire evening feels like an RCMH spectacular, particularly the specialty acts shoehorned into the main plot. Added bait is generous use of film clips and live video.
The plot is simplicity itself: Film director AJ Golden yells at his actors and falls for Indigo James, a beautiful woman with a killer singing voice. Meeting her at the busiest bar in Christendom (all those swirling bodies), he’ll make her a star or my name isn’t Norman Maine. Vying for her is Joey Green, a shy, talented musician. Aside from the idea that Golden, Green and Indigo all have colorful names, for some reason, there’s nothing especially distinguished or complex about them.
Golden and Green are at odds from the get-go. “I need it fast,” says Golden about one number. “The tempo should be left up to the composer,” responds Green. Meanwhile, Indigo’s rise is traced via posters of pictures she supposedly makes. In a stab at wit, among these are “Casablanca,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Sunset Boulevard” and “King Kong.”
A staged dance number, slated for a film about “Calamity Jane,” is really a knock-off of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” featuring a teeterboard’s throwing bodies into the air. Another “live” excerpt, from “Cleopatra,” is an excuse for an astonishing, erotic aerial act by twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton, dressed (barely) in vague Egyptian attire. Holding straps, they fly from floor to ceiling, embracing and breaking apart with such dizzying precision that the audience goes wild, as it should.
In the second half, we get a revenge dream of vomitous green-clad zombies, lyrics something like, “You are my inspiration / You could be the darling of a nation” and, finally, another highlight: three trapeze artists, two men and a woman, mirror the conflicts among director, star and musician by hanging from a suspended bar and doing somersaults in various combinations. It’s a stunning bit as is a finale, however over-long, that finds hero and heroine being chased by zoot-suited gangsters via trampolines atop New York roofs.
Jeremy Kushnier’s AJ Golden is tough and troubled, the kind of guy who eats at Chasen’s and is always late paying his bills; Ruby Lewis’ Indigo sings gloriously but, like the other characters, doesn’t have much of a character to play. Ryan Vona’s Joey is a bit of a schlemiel, but you feel for him. Sarah Meahl, Kay Cunning and Bret Shuford are the other principals, with the latter the butt of the obligatory gay joke. The 30-plus ensemble should get hazard pay.
How director / conceiver Philippe Decouflé managed to fuse the disparate parts is a miracle. (Jean-François Bouchard is listed as creative guide and creative director.) All the technical aspects – sets, costumes, lights, sound – are dazzling. Those on sensory overload might look up at the Lyric Theater ceiling where the motto “Ars Longa, Via Brevis” is etched in stained glass. Cirque’s “Paramour” is its own kind of art and may not last long. But it has its thrilling moments and should provide a kick or two for summer tourists.
--David A. Rosenberg
June 8, 2016