I was in London at the weekend – I was actually staying in Westminster. It felt a little odd going to Westminster for frivolous reasons given the tragedy that unfolded last week, but I really was heartened by what I saw.
I’m not going to turn this into a political blog – don’t worry about that. I just want to express my overwhelming feeling of pride in my fellow countrymen.
On Saturday there was a protest about Brexit (or Brexshit as perhaps it would be better to refer to it as). Parliament Square was heaving. People, they were out there in their hoards to use their democratic right to protest and freedom of speech. Recently I have found myself frequently being the ‘outsider’ point of view – so it was reassuring to feel that there are others who share my opinion, and are still prepared to fight for it. The best bit? Everything was peaceful, well formulated and respectful to those that had lost their lives only a few days before.
On Sunday things were very much back to normal around Westminster and Parliament. The bridge was heaving with tourists, as people snapped photos of the area and generally went along their business. Why am I mentioning this? We are not afraid. We haven’t stopped visiting places out of fear. am very proud of how we, as a United Kingdom, have united together over this.
You’re probably wondering when I am going to get to the point. It’s now.
The reason I was in London in the first place is because my boyfriend extraordinaire, got me tickets to see An American In Paris. The film version of the musical – starring none other than Gene Kelly – is one of my favourites.* I deliberately didn’t re-watch it before seeing the stage musical for fear that I might spend the whole time comparing it in my head. Now, I know it was silly to even think that as they are very different.
The stage version of An American In Paris contextualises the story in a way which the 1951 film doesn’t. This is understandable – in 1951, people did not go to the cinema to be reminded of the war which they had just lived though. As one of the characters in the musical remarks – if you can make people happy through your art, that’s what you should do. The film exists in this almost timeless era, where only the clothing and set design gives you an insight into the period in which it is set. Conversely, the stage version starts with the Nazi swastika being replaced with the French tricolour, and a dance sequence where you can see the French reclaiming their country. Throughout the stage version too, is the underlying feeling that this is a country which is repairing – there is a little bit of suspicion about those families who seem to have profited from the war, and nobody quite knows how – there is a sense of obligation to the American soldiers which you don’t quite get from the film.
Seeing a stage version of a film is a very different experience. Everybody knows how impressive Gene Kelly’s ballet sequence is – it’s what the film is famous for after all – but seeing (very different) ballet sequences on stage is something else. As someone who has two left feet, I was amazed by these sections of the musical. They were so beautifully choreographed, and so well complimented by the staging.
It’s hard to pick out the best moments of the musical, it was stand out from start to finish, with high energy and high impact throughout. (Even my boyfriend who has never seen a musical before, and expected to have fallen asleep before the interval said ‘I finally understand why you love musicals so much’.) Gershwin’s music, of course, is so opulent, exciting and wonderful. The score really comes alive when performed with such passion. My favourite moment of the show was ‘I Got Rhythm’. It won’t spoil anything to say that this was an ensemble moment done with aplomb.
I realise I have a tendency to gush a lot on this blog. I think it’s probably because I’ve decided life is too short to waste on things I don’t enjoy (I mean, I used to finish every book I ever started, and now I have much more patience). I’m trying my hardest not to gush here, but it’s so difficult because it was such a wonderful production. If I was being extra picky I suppose I might mention the French accent which sounded a little more German – but that is really very minor. All in all it’s an extravaganza.
This is the sort of musical that I adore. Perhaps controversially I have no interest in seeing things like Aladdin, the Lion King, Wicked – musicals of that ilk. Instead I prefer these golden oldies. They’re old fashioned, they’re understated (the staging and set for An American In Paris was stunning but it’s not the pyrotechnics you might get at one of the musicals I’ve just mentioned), they’ve got some great – and enduring – sing-a-long songs, and some iconic dance numbers. I also like the cheeky humour you tend to get in these musicals – Cole Porter’s would be another example of this.
If you’re expecting to see a remake of the film than this is not that. If you’re excited by a re-imagining of the story, then go. Go in your droves and enjoy. Because it would be impossible not to. A
Once again – it’s five stars from me.