Cirque du Soleil’s inaugural Broadway venture, Paramour, which officially opened at the Lyric Theatre on May 25, has elements of a big, splashy, death-defying new musical—but they are masked by director Philippe Decoufle´and creative director Jean-Francois Bouchard’s hodgepodge telling of a young woman’s journey through the golden age of Hollywood.
It’s challenging to know where to begin in dissecting what went wrong in Cirque’s ambitious attempt, except to say that there is something decidedly awkward about the company’s encapsulation of the American musical. Dating back to 1984, Cirque du Soleil has decades of experience in storytelling through movement, acrobatics, music and spectacle. Yet harnessing that wildly creative energy into something cohesive and emotionally resonant seems to have slipped through the creators’ hands.
The plot loosely follows the newly discovered Indigo (Ruby Lewis) as producer AJ (Jeremy Kushnier) puts her on the fast track to Hollywood stardom. Her former piano player and songwriter Joey (Ryan Vona) has fallen hard for Indigo, too, and a love triangle ensues amid the towering sets, aerial acts, and high tech distractions.
There are moments of theatrical electricity, such as a meticulously choreographed filmstrip sequence staged with reference to a flipbook. It is one of choreographer Daphné Mauger’s shining moments, whereas circus acts overshadow much of her other work. A later sequence, the “Movie Poster Montage,” incorporates innovative projection design by Olivier Simola and Christophe Waksmann that superimposes Indigo onto some of Hollywood’s most iconic posters. “Cleopatra” is probably the most classic Cirque act of the show, featuring longtime Cirque performers Andrew and Kevin Atherton.
There’s something ironic about Paramour’s arrival at the Lyric, a theater renovated for Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky’s Ragtime (then named the Ford Center for Performing Arts). That production had a budget soaring over $11 million and shuttered under the heavy operating costs. Several theatre names and productions later (including Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, with a projected loss of $60 million), one wonders if the Lyric might have an old-fashioned curse.
Or maybe, in this case, it’s simply a series of decisions that leave the audience cold. Edit Paramour down to 90 minutes and plop it in Las Vegas and you very well might have a hit. Last week (ending June 12, 2016), Paramour was at just under 75 percent capacity. Perhaps with the number of Broadway closings this summer it will gain ground. But market something as “a love story, not only for the sense of profound human emotion, but also for the love of art,” as Decouflé states in the program notes, and you’re setting up an expectation that Paramour can’t deliver.
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