For more than thirty years, the Canada-based Cirque du Soleil has been wowing audiences with its unique reinvention of the circus, concentrating on stupendous feats of acrobatics with live music and an all-human cast. For its Broadway debut, however, it has bitten off more than it can chew with Paramour, running at the Lyric Theatre through February 19. Instead of concentrating on what the troupe does best, director and conceiver Philippe Decouflé and creative guide and creative director Jean-François Bouchard decided to frame the thrilling acrobatics within the confines of traditional musical theater, obscuring both in the process. Jeremy Kushner is the ersatz ringmaster as AJ Golden, a famous film director — don’t call them movies! — who thinks he has found his next superstar (and personal and professional muse) in local ingénue Indigo (Ruby Lewis) during the Golden Age of Hollywood. But standing in between them is Indigo’s partner, pianist and composer Joey (Ryan Vona), who is in love with her. As success comes to Indigo, she must make difficult decisions that will forever change her life and career.
The book is as standard as they come, as are the music (by Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) and lyrics (by co-composer Andreas Carlsson). As expected, the show looks terrific, with ecstatic sets by Philippe Guillotel, glittering costumes by Daphné Mauger, and choreography by Raffaello D’Andrea, but what’s wrong with Paramour can be summarized by one set piece that focuses on the central love triangle. A trio of aerialists, dressed in the same colors as AJ, Indigo, and Joey, beautifully reenact their troublesome situation, avatars performing remarkable feats in the air, but then AJ, Indigo, and Joey start singing a song that essentially retells everything we have just seen, as if the audience can’t be trusted to understand what the flying dance was all about. Indeed, the acrobatics usually occur in the background, forming no bond with the main story, as if they are two separate entities. Even when they do come together, as in a Calamity Jane scene involving a teeterboard, we are left scratching our heads, wondering why. The performers, who include artistic gymnasts Tom Ammirati, Martin Charrat, and Amber Fulljames, aerial strap artists Andrew and Kevin Atherton, trampolinist Lee Brearley, dancer Yanelis Brooks, martial artist Sam Charlton, contortionist Myriam Deraiche, juggler Kyle Driggs, Chinese pole and Cyr wheel specialist Jeremias Faganel, and clown Nate Cooper (who wanders through the audience before the show starts), exhibit extraordinary talent, but director West Hyler (the Big Apple Circus, Jersey Boys) puts too little of it front and center. It all feels too gimmicky; in fact, in front of each theatergoer, Velcroed to a seat, is a menu of merchandise that you can order and have delivered right there as you sit. That might work in Vegas, but it’s far too cheesy for Broadway.