The folks at Cirque du Soleil would be the first to tell you that New York is a tough town to crack. The venerable nouveau circus company has enjoyed great success in the Big Apple with their touring productions over the last decades, but a permanent residency has so far eluded them. Such previous attempts as Banana Shpeel in 2010 and Zarkana in 2011 and 2012 were either outright disasters or commercial disappointments. Now their latest effort attempts to combine Cirque’s trademark acrobatic acts with an original Broadway musical. Unfortunately, the resulting hybrid, Paramour, is more Frankenstein’s monster than love child.
Thanks to the brand’s pedigree, the show has been grossing big numbers, averaging $1 million weekly in previews. And it may well attract tourists familiar with the company’s many Las Vegas offerings. But don’t look for it to figure prominently in next year’s Tony Awards.
A Broadway musical on steroids.
The $25 million production is a traditionally styled Broadway musical, albeit a very mediocre one, infused with the sort of acrobatic routines normally seen under a big top. The story concerns the love triangle linking Golden Age Hollywood director A.J. (Broadway veteran Jeremy Kushnier, who assumed the role only a few weeks ago) with Indigo (Ruby Lewis), the beautiful singer/actress he’s grooming for stardom, and Joey (Ryan Vona), a sweet-natured pianist-composer whom A.J. has similarly plucked out of obscurity to write the songs for his musical magnum opus.
Just in case the audience is not fully aware that there’s a love triangle involved, we’re treated to a song called, you guessed it, “Love Triangle.” The number is standard fare, with one difference. While the three main characters are pouring their hearts out in song, three acrobats, two male and one female, are performing an elaborate routine over their heads.
And so it goes throughout melodramatic proceedings in which the humor is largely unintentional. If a scene features people walking down a street, they’re either walking on their hands or doing somersaults. The waiter in a crowded restaurant is gliding on roller skates, and juggling while he’s at it. When a character comments, “I felt the room spinning,” the other performers onstage are doing exactly that. A romantic duet between Ruby and Joey is accompanied by lampshades flying overhead. Why exactly they’re flying is anybody’s guess, but it makes for an undeniably arresting visual.
Granted, audiences going to a Cirque du Soleil show expect extravagant acrobatics. But the creators of Paramour — tellingly, no writer is credited — seem to have gone out of their way to produce as banal and generic a musical as possible. Featuring atrocious dialogue and forgettable songs, it feels more like a parody than the real thing.
But the creative deficiencies may not matter to those enthralled by the likes of Andrew and Kevin Atherton, identical twin aerialists who soar out into the auditorium and deliver a beautifully choreographed flying routine. And unlike the sequences featured in the same theater’s earlier tenant, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, this one went off without a hitch.
The show does have some imaginative, thrilling sequences, including a musical number that cleverly resembles the frames of a film strip come to life; a recreation of classic movie posters, including King Kong, Gone With the Wind and Cleopatra, using digital imagery; and a climactic rooftop chase in which the performers fly through the air with the aid of well-placed trampolines. You’ll have no idea who’s chasing who or why, but you’ll be too dazzled to care.
But director-conceiver Philippe Decoufle seems to think that the audience is collectively suffering from ADD, judging by the endless number of visual distractions. There’s extensive use of video projections on giant screens, including, most bizarrely, a close-up of a violinist playing his instrument in the orchestra pit during a tender love song.
Kushnier delivers a thoroughly professional performance in his thankless role, and Lewis and Vona are both appealing, with the former displaying a gorgeous singing voice and particularly shining in a Calamity Jane-themed production number. The dozens of acrobats, aerialists and circus performers in the ensemble go through their athletic paces with typical Cirque expertise. But no matter how many times the action spills out over the stage and into the auditorium, it’s not enough to draw you into the mess that is Paramour.
Venue: Lyric Theatre, New York
Cast: Jeremy Kushnier, Ruby Lewis, Ryan Vona, Bret Shuford, Sarah Meahl, Kat Cunning
Director-conceiver: Philippe Decoufle
Music: Bob & Bill, Guy Dubuc, Marc Lessard
Lyricist/co-composer: Andreas Carlsson
Creative guide-creative director: Jean-Francois Bouchard
Associate creative director-scene director-story: West Hyler
Associate creative director-acrobatic designer-choreographer: Shana Carroll
Associate creative director: Pascale Henrot
Choreographer: Daphne Mauger
Set designer: Jean Rabasse
Lighting designer: Patrice Bescombes
Costume designer: Philippe Guillotel
Projection designers: Olivier Simola, Christophe Waksmann
Sound designer: John Shivers
Presented by Cirque du Soleil Theatrical