Overall I had a wonderful time at the show, and I would recommend it to anyone. It made me so happy to watch Robbie, who clearly was having a ball. I fully expected him to be good, from years of watching him excel in Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story Suite and George Balanchine’s Who Cares?, and he did not disappoint. He looked like he was born to be up there, and his all-American look was perfectly suited the part of the yankee in Paree. Robbie is taking a breather from Broadway at the moment, but I suspect he’ll find his way back to The Great White Way someday.
Leanne Cope danced the role of Lise Dassin, his love interest, and I was completely blown away by her too. She has a luminous face with large, doll-like eyes and beautifully shaped legs and feet. Her British lilt was replaced with a convincing French accent, even in song, and her voice rang out crystal clear in “The Man I Love.” In the climactic ballet sequence towards the end of the show she was as confidently sexy as she was shyly sweet in her earlier scenes, an impressive display of range. She had the miserable task of switching back and forth between character heels and pointe shoes between nearly every scene, and I don’t know how she managed to do it so quickly and so often!
Robbie and Leanne’s balletic dream pas de deux was the highlight of the performance. That an intimate ballet number was the capstone in a big production (competing with splashy ensemble tap numbers, etc.) is a testament to Chris’s skill in partnering choreography, as well to the
Aside from the pas de deux, I thought the strongest numbers were “Liza,” the big Vegas showgirl tap dance to “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” And I especially liked “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck”—a tour de force dance piece for Robbie, who nonchalantly tossed off an á la seconde turn over a countertop among other feats. The ensemble was strong in this scene too, as it was throughout. It was great to see former City Ballet dancers Stephen Hanna and Kurt Froman in nearly every scene. Kurt cracked me up in a “bad ballet” tableau and Stephen made the most of his many bravura solo moments.
I was thrilled that the show was so dance-filled, but sometimes I felt that it needed stiller moments. There were so many transition scenes, including the opening piece, that I felt individual characterization often got lost in a sea of motion. Max von Essen and Brandon Uranowitz were great as Lise’s other suitors Henri Baurel and Adam Hochberg, but they felt like stock figures. Their back-stories were alluded to but never developed.
Even Lise and Jerry felt a little hollow. Leanne sang half of “The Man I Love,” but the song’s impact was diminished because it was also used as comic relief by Henri as he sketched a wishy-washy marriage proposal. It would have been more moving to have had Lise sing the whole song by herself. I also thought Robbie could have had a more introspective solo number. His songs all started off with some singing and finished with lots of dancing. They are dancers first, sure, but I felt they could both handle more in the singing department. I’m no musical theater expert, though. But my best friend Elaine, who accompanied me to the show, also thought that they sounded strong enough to tackle more—and she is an accomplished singer who stages school musicals in her spare time.
There were some aspects of the story which confused me. Robbie’s character had almost no backstory, some PTSD from the war was hinted at briefly. Yet the more marginal character Henri suffered from an excess of plot: he had cold, patrician parents (who were kind enough to hide Jews during WWII), he was a closeted homosexual, and he harbored a secret career as a song and dance man. Much attention was paid to his fear that his parents wouldn’t understand his artistic inclinations, but since his mother was a former ballerina that felt weak to me. Also, when he finally told them of his passion they were instantly accepting. I would have cut some of the filler numbers—“Fidgety Feet,” for example—and fleshed out some of Henri’s dramas or else dropped a few of them altogether.
Leanne’s character also had a lot of issues. We learn from another character that her parents recently died in a concentration camp, she was in hiding during the war, and she was contending with a passionless, intended marriage as well as blossoming ballet stardom. But it was unclear how she really felt about any of this. Maybe some of these themes were too dark to easily fit into a romantic Gershwin musical? There were a few scenes in which Leanne was relegated to sitting and staring at the audience, or sitting on the side of the stage staring at the central scene—her character seemed to lack agency. And why couldn’t she just tell Robbie about her past? It wasn’t like he was on the Nazi side…
But these are mere quibbles with what was really an enjoyable evening at the theater. I am so impressed with Chris, Robbie, and Leanne. It is pretty incredible to have such success in both the ballet world and mainstream Broadway. Also, it was surprising and wonderful to see a polished, dance-driven production—with real ballet!—in the middle of Times Square.