The making of An American in Paris (from March 4) holds all the components of a classic Broadway show. An all-American, Oscar-winning movie adapted to the stage by an Englishman who, darling of the ballet world, connoisseur of the rond de jambe, is totally, alarmingly, inexperienced as a director. The show is set up for a fall, gasp the glitterati of the arts world! Then, in another maverick move, Christopher Wheeldon, the rogue director, casts two dancers, with no Broadway background, in the lead roles. Their suspicions bristle yet more. But no! Ebulliently, defiantly, the show soars to success, winning rave reviews and fistfuls of Tony Awards, stunning audiences in Paris and Broadway and, in a final spin, it moves to the West End.
The plot follows the story of Jerry Mulligan, a G.I. and painter who was stationed in Paris during the war, and sells his works on the city’s streets whilst being hounded by an American heiress, who offers financial support in exchange for his company. Their arrangement is thrown tremendously off-balance by the arrival of Lise, a French girl who wins Jerry’s heart. Hers, of course, is tied to another man. In the film, this love triangle unfolds amidst the backdrop of 1951, but Wheeldon darkens the action by pushing it back to 1945: post-war Paris is drab and dark and shell-shocked. Jerry, played by New York City Ballet’s principal dancer Robert Fairchild, dances his way around a set that ebbs and flows with movement. Bread-lines and street-scenes form then disintegrate, and are replaced with the interiors of bistros and boulangeries, which slip, seamlessly, into vignettes of sweeping boulevards and boats floating along the Seine.
An American in Paris
The Royal Court are also riffing on an American theme, with The Kid Stays in The Picture (March 7-April 8), based on the memoirs of Hollywood producer Robert Evans. A former actor, Evans made his millions in his twenties, selling a clothing company he had set up with his brother. Scoring a job as a producer at Paramount, he became one of the most powerful figures in filmmaking: The Godfather, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown were all made under his watch. But then his marriage to Ali MacGraw publicly disintegrated, and he became tangled in the seamier sides of Hollywood. Charged for cocaine trafficking, he briefly became a murder suspect when a potential investor in one of his films was killed. Directed by Simon McBurney, the Court’s production will use Evans’s story as a lens to look at the wider forces shaping American culture at the time.
David Tennant, star of Don Juan in Soho
Gambling and debauchery also lie at at the heart of Don Juan in Soho (March 17-June 10) but, less grounded in reality, the themes are allowed to run riot in a bracing flush of hedonism. David Tennant takes to the stage to play Patrick Marber’s reinterpretation of Molière’s carnal libertine—rechristened DJ to chime with the modern era—and romps around Soho in a mist of seduction. A quintessential anti-hero, seducing countless fictional figures on stage, Tennant’s amoral, lascivious DJ is sure to seduce audiences too.
Comedy is also on the cards at the Young Vic, where award-winning director Lucy J Skilbeck will direct two one-act Chekhov comedies: The Bear/The Proposal (March 15-25). Performed by a company of queer-identifying artists, the shows playfully explore the absurdity of gender divisions.
The Bear/The Proposal
Up the road, the National are running a play called Ugly Lies the Bone (March 2-June 6), which examines the use of virtual reality in treating soldiers with PTSD. Centred around the story of Jess, who returns to Florida after three tours of Afghanistan, the story shows her entering a stunningly visual, virtual world to alleviate her pain. Written by the bold, fearless Lindsey Ferrentino, the play stands out as one of the first to put a female combat veteran centre-stage.
Ugly Lies the Bone
Over at the Donmar, Steve Walters’s new play Limehouse (March 2-April 15) circles back to 1981. A fictionalized account of when Labour’s “Gang of Four” broke away from the party to form the SDP, it is set against a curiously familiar, fractious political backdrop: the Tory leader is battling with her cabinet, and a divisive left-wing leader helms the opposition. It might be set decades ago, but it would take even the least astute of audiences to sense how weighted its message is.—Isobel Thompson
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Credits: Ian Gavan; Matthew Murphy; Kate Fleetwood