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Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - May 25, 2016

Paramour Cirque du Soleil Theatrical. Creative Guide and Creative Director - Jean-François Bouchard. Director & Conceiver - Philippe Decouflé. President and Managing Director, Cirque du Soleil Theatrical - Scott Ziegler. Associate Creative Director, Scene Director & Story - West Hyler. Associate Creative Director and Acrobatic Designer & Choreographer - Shana Carroll. Associate Creative Director - Pascale Henrot. Composers - Bob & Bill (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard). Lyricist and Co-Composer - Andreas Carlsson. Set Design - Jean Rabasse. Costume Designer - Philippe Guillotel. Choreographer - Daphné Mauger. Flying Machine Design & Choreography - Verity Studios. Lighting Designer - Patrice Besombes, Howell Binkley. Projection Designers - Olivier Simola, Christophe Waksmann. Sound Designer - John Shivers. Acrobatic Performance Designer - Boris Verkhovsky. Rigging & Acrobatic Equipment Designer - Pierre Masse. Make-Up Designer - Nathalie Gagné. Hair Designer - Josh Marquette. Props Designer - Anne-Séguin Poirier. Music Director/Band Leader - Seth Stachowski. Music Coordinator - Howard Joines. Artistic Director/Acrobatic Coach - Eric Heppell. Acrobatic Casting - Cirque du Soleil Casting. Technical Supervisor - David Benken. Production Stage Manager - Claudette Waddle. Cast: Jeremy Kushnier, Ruby Lewis, Ryan Vona, Bret Shuford, Sarah Meahl, Kat Cunning, Tom Ammirati, Chelsey Arce, Andrew Atherton, Kevin Atherton, Lee Brearley, Yanelis Brooks, Samuel William Charlton, Martin Charrat, Nate Cooper, Myriam Deraiche, Kyle Driggs, Jeremias Faganel, Amber Brooke Fulljames, Tomasz Jadach, Rafal Kaszubowski, Justin Keats, Reed Kelly, Denis Kibenko, Joe McAdam, Raven McRae, Amber J. Merrick, Sheridan Mouawad, Amber Barbee Pickens, Justin Prescott, Fletcher Blair Sanchez, Mathieu Sennacherib, Blakely Slaybaugh, Sam Softich, Amiel Sociher, Steven Trumon Gray, Bruce Weber, Amber Van Wijk, Tomasz Wilkosz, Zhengqi Xia.
Theatre: Lyric Theatre, 213 West 42nd Street
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Paramour cast
Photo by Richard Termine

On paper, Paramour sounds like a billion-dollar idea. Combine the sexy, gravity-mocking team of acrobats from Cirque du Soleil with the glitz and glamor of Golden Age Hollywood and unleash it all on Broadway, so the most eye-popping feats of physicality can meld seamlessly with the best live storytelling and acting you can find anywhere. Conceptually, it's about as much of a sure thing as any such hybrid show could ever be.

Alas, what just opened at the Lyric realizes only a fraction of the premise's promise. Rather than fusing the best of these disparate worlds, Paramour unites something much closer to the worst—or, if we're being charitable, the most mediocre—turning out a piece that excites only intermittently as a circus attraction and never as a theatre piece.

The reason for this is clear, at least in retrospect: Plot is not what Cirque du Soleil does. Their people on, behind, and in many cases above the stage are experts with the suggestive, hinting at narratives, relationships, and through lines onto which you can project your own dreams and details. In this country, at any rate, the question "What the heck is going on?" is common because it's supposed to be. The specifics don't matter—as long as they give you just enough maze to lose yourself in without becoming frustrated, they have you where they want you. And if those walls look a lot like abs on one side and sinewy, masterfully toned legs on the other, so much the better, right?

Ruby Lewis, Jeremy Kushnier, and Ryan Vona
Photo by Joan Marcus

Those things have been mostly drop-kicked into the background here so that we may revel instead in... well, nothing, really. The action, such as it is, concerns an egomaniacal film director named A.J. Golden (Jeremy Kushnier) who, at his underlings' behest, discovers his muse singing in a bar. That the woman in question, Indigo (Ruby Lewis), is professionally attached to her pianist-songwriting partner, Joey Green (Ryan Vona), is no big deal. Indigo can bring him along and A.J. can pay him to write his latest movie's big love song hit. Since both men love Indigo only for her art and Indigo is content being each's muse, nothing at all could possibly go wrong with their arrangement.

In the interests of spoilers, I won't reveal things such as whether A.J. discovers Indigo kissing Joey at a rehearsal, whether he goes bonkers with rage afterwards, and whether all this ends tragically, happily, or both. But I also shouldn't need to. The basis for this is clearly the old-timey Studio System output, which enforced certain ideas of who should endure and survive certain things, and what needed to happen along the way. This story (credited to West Hyler, also listed as the associate creative director and scene director) is familiar enough that cavemen would have thrown rotten fruit in annoyance at it; any second-rate movie or play goes at least this deep and, sadly, many go deeper.

Ideally, this is where the Cirque part of the equation would come into effect. But it's been reserved primarily for dizzying set pieces so divorced from the action that surrounds them that they could be reordered or replaced with moisturizer infomercials with no ill effect. Twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton make a heart-stopping spectacle of their high-flying double act on the set of A.J. and Indigo's Cleopatra (Liz Taylor was undoubtedly relieved). There's some fun leaping about during a Calamity Jane shoot. At the top of Act II, A.J. dreams of suave men spinning around streetlamps before Joey is set upon by zombies with impressive musculature. (Don't ask.) A romantic interlude is warmly outlined by swirling lampshades. And the climax is a fascinating trampoline-skyscape exercise done in only its dearth of development and imagination.

Andrew and Kevin Atherton
Photo by Richard Termine

Only once is there a direct, successful correlation between the two halves of Paramour's soul: in the second-act number "Love Triangle." A three-way slapfest between the leads gets interrupted by a trio of Oklahoma!-inspired dream dancers (Martin Charrat, Myriam Deraiche, and Samuel William Charlton) who take to a trapeze and act out their conflict and frustrations some 30 feet above the stage. The tension, eroticism, and longing from their movements eclipses anything the "play" itself as enacted by Kushnier, Lewis, and Vona (capable, certainly, but up against impossible odds) can generate by several orders of magnitude. It's no surprise, then, that this moment gets, far and away, the loudest, longest, and seemingly adoring applause of the night. (For what it's worth, Boris Verkhovsky is the credited "acrobatic performance designer.")

Theatre audiences crave that sort of connection the same way Cirque audiences yearn to be astonished by some heretofore unimagined aerial splendor, and an experienced librettist as interested in capturing drama as Cirque is visceral thrills might have been able to capitalize on this and bridge the gap between the two. But because they arouse different parts of the brain and heart, they must be coaxed. One suspects that Hyler and this production's director and conceiver, Philippe Decouflé, happened upon the alchemy in this case by accident—it's nothing that's found elsewhere in the writing. A look at Andreas Carlsson's lyrics of "Love Triangle" will tell you as much: "I am torn / No one can win this twisted game we play. / It's my move / But either way / A heart must break today," and "Choose which heart you want to mangle / As you break out of the / Love triangle." And this is probably the best song of the night!

Yes, the show fails where it counts most. But it's gotten everything else right. The music (by composers Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, with an assist from Carlsson) is lush, brassy, and sumptuously evocative of period excess. Daphné Mauger's choreography is always fine, and occasionally evinces instances of Michael Kidd–like flair. Jean Rabasse's sets are enormous, splashy, and attractive as they bring to life everything from nightclubs to sound stages to anthropomorphic film strips. The costumes (by Philippe Guillotel) are a marvelous array of fantasy-threaded Technicolor duds. And the light (Patrice Besombes and Howell Binkley) and projections (Olivier Simola and Christophe Waksmann) provide the final explosive elements needed to launch you into the universes of Busby Berkeley, Fritz Lang, or pretty much anywhere in between. The show could not look better.

This ain't the real Hollywood, though, so looks only get you so far. Some substance is ultimately required, but there's nothing to be found beneath Paramour's bewitching surface. "Art's all well and good," A.J. quotes Indigo as saying not long before the final curtain drops, "but gimme the joys of life any day." It's not exactly profound, but it is worth remembering—even if the show that contains these words of quasi-wisdom falls well short of the art that ought to have come to it more naturally.

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