Review: ‘Cirque du Soleil Paramour’ at The Lyric Theatre in NYC

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It will be interesting to keep an eye on this new spectacular show – Paramour – calling itself a New Broadway Musical, for it’s a combination of circus, swanky cabaret floorshow and old world musical theatre. Its most successful element is visual, for it does suggest the sort of exaggerated glamour that MGM and Warner Brothers musical movies offered in the 1930s.

The cast of Cirque du Soleil's 'Paramour.' Photo by Richard Termine.
The cast of Cirque du Soleil ‘Paramour.’ Photo by Richard Termine.

Remember those mile high staircases that whirled and twirled, offering us show girls who stood on them, occasionally making their tentative ways up or down? Paramour has such a staircase, a series of rooftops, brightly lit arches, filmed backgrounds, and an ensemble of 40 attractive and talented singer/dancers, almost as large in number as those in the Busby Berkeley films that kept audiences coping with the Great Depression. If Paramour were to be judged only for its scenery, costumes and lively choreography (supplied by Jean Rabasse, Philippe Guillotel, and Daphne Mauger) it would be a resounding winner.

Unfortunately, the show also has a book, though no one is listed as its author. The music and lyrics are mostly created by the Cirque de Soleil composers Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, who are better known simply, for reasons of their own, as Bob and Bill. This is their ninth show as composers for the Cirque, but the first to be attached to a proper story. Unfortunately, their score is right out of the B movie musicals that Monogram Studios might have made if Monogram ever made musicals. Paramour gives an audience the sort of temporary pleasure derived from downing a Smoothie, but it could be argued that Broadway is not the ideal address for it to call home.

The creative staff is headed by Director Philippe Decloufé, whose varied background and success in France led to his being honored with the Grand Prix from the National Minister of Culture for his show Decodex. He has kept Paramour moving smoothly throughout. He is supported by four or five “associate creative directors” which might explain how the show has a little something for everyone.

The plot involves a trio of one-dimensional characters; it places two of them in a story about winning the hand of the beautiful redhead called “Indigo.” The two suitors are the worldly, wild and wealthy Hollywood producer, and the small town unknown song writer, the sort of youth often played by Dick Powell in the Gold Diggers movies at Warner Brothers. Both of these characters meet the gorgeous redhead by chance. In the course of two short scenes, she falls for both of them. By offering little, but promising a lot to the hotshot producer, she lands the role of Cleopatra in his movie that would make the Elizabeth Taylor version look skimpy. Youthful song writer is assigned the difficult task of coming up with a romantic ballad for Cleopatra, to be sung with Julius Caesar just before the film’s final clinch. The songs supplied by Bob and Bill don’t bother with titles; they are listed as “Writers Block,” “Love Triangle,” “The Muse,” “The Goddess Of Egypt,” and other descriptive phrases.

The best parts of the two act musical are the acrobatics which feature some of the world’s most accomplished aerialists, tumblers, jugglers, and the aerial strap artists Andrew and Kevin Atherton, who perform dazzlingly as a pair of twins offered to Cleopatra as a gift from a visiting potentate.

All of the Cirque de Soleil acrobatics are thrilling, and a goodly number of Cirque performers are on hand to delight us with their huge bag of tricks, all of which appear to be life-threatening. They do the most amazing things in mid-air, flipping three and four times, often high above the ground. It just seemed odd that they should be taking such chances in service to Cleopatra or, in other sequences to a bad dream of Mr. Producer, or to the extended chase sequence across the rooftops of a movie studio, for they overwhelm the tiny story that they are supposed to support.

Philiippe Decouflé is listed as “Director and Conceiver,” Jean-François Bouchard is “Creative Guide and Creative Director” and Scott Zeiger is the President of Cirque de Soleil Theater. These gentlemen are accustomed to putting on shows for a family audience, and they’ve provided many hits to fill their specially built arenas in Las Vegas, and around the globe. As I said at the top of this review, it should be interesting to see if this attempt to attract an audience eight times a week to a legit theatre, willing to pay well over $100 a seat to witness this Grade B story with its totally dismissable score when the star attraction, the acrobats, have little or nothing to do with the story that pops up between their displays. There seem to be 18 people on the creative side of the payroll ledger; there are six principal actors, and an ensemble of 40, and that’s a lot of mouths to feed come payday.

Music Director Seth Stachowski conducts, and his seven or eight instrumentalists, by doubling and tripling, manage to make a big sound that does indeed sound like the background score of a big movie. Don’t expect it though to help the story along — as did the scores of Psycho, Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane and many others once upon a time, in the long ago.

Jeremy Kushnier as AJ in Cirque du Soleil's 'Paramour.' Photo by Richard Termine.
Jeremy Kushnier as AJ in Cirque du Soleil ‘Paramour.’ Photo by Richard Termine.

There is a lot to enjoy in Paramour. Jeremy Kushner, Ruby Lewis, and Ryan Vona give energetic performances in the three central roles, but there’s not much they can do with the material to make their characters more than: (a) a pretty redhead who’s not as wild as she appears; (b) a megalomaniacal Hollywood mogul who is everything he appears to be; and (c) a goofy leading man — the sort Kenny Baker or Dick Powell played in early film musicals.

Paramour has begun its life with impressive box office grosses, but so did its predecessor Spider Man in the same theatre venue (the Lyric on West 42nd Street). We’ll see — stay tuned.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, and an intermission.

Cirque du Soleil Paramour is playing at the Lyric Theatre – 213 West 42nd Street, in New York City. For tickets, go to the box office, call Ticketmaster at (877) 250-2929, or purchase them online.

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.