The lovestruck heart doesn’t merely leap in Paramour. It flips, flies, frolics, flits, flounces, trips to the moon on gossamer wings, beats like a boogie and jumps like a bean — everything exactly as one should expect from romance as filtered through the prism of Cirque du Soleil. Officially starting the 2016-2017 season, this is the show with which the Montreal-based global franchise plants its standard on Broadway, promising — and, in spades, delivering — a mashup of 42nd Street backstage romance, non-stop Ziegfeld folly and Cirque’s brand of acrobatic arts, as Canadian as poutine. It’s as eye-popping as Christmas at Radio City Music Hall, if not quite as intimate or touching.
Other Cirque adventures have attempted to layer a narrative tale over feats of athletic prowess, mind-boggling strength and eros-free sensuality but really what’s the point? We’ve come for the visuals and while it’s doubtful that Paramour audiences will come away disappointed in that department, they may wonder why that annoying story kept stopping the action dead in its computer-assisted tracks. Get on with it.
The story, credited to West Hyler, follows the familiar outline of 42nd Street, The Red Shoes and maybe a dash of Anna Karenina. OK, a teensy dash. Indigo (Ruby Lewis) is an aspiring singer-dancer happily in love with her talented but nowhere-bound guy Joey (Ryan Vona) when she’s spotted by Hollywood’s Greatest Director, AJ (Jeremy Kushnier) who dubs her his next It Girl. A love triangle develops pitting beardless boy against suave Svengali, but not before we’re treated to AJ’s entire CV in a series of sketches invoking Cleopatra, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Murder on the Orient Express, you name it, Cirque clips it.
The company, which was recently purchased by a private equity consortium, has taken over the Lyric Theatre, one of Broadway’s biggest houses, and the visuals are spectacular. Every one of the 25 million dollars budgeted is evident in the sleek shimmering costumes (Philippe Guillotel), Art Deco designs (Jean Rabasse), refulgent lighting (Patrice Besombes and Howell Binkley) and all manner of mechanics that allow the gymnasts, acrobats, wheel-turners and trapeze artists to take flight.
All these serve but one purpose: To display one death-defying act after another, each more scary/graceful than the one before. Unfortunately, it’s hard to track the beating of the heart when its stuck in the throat for a couple of hours. And did I mention the horrible music? Well, with Cirque that’s a given. Think of Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers as “reconceived” by a hot Euro director (I’m not naming names) and set to 90s house music. Paramour.
That leaves me just a few lines to celebrate The Total Bent, the newest great musical to launch at the Public Theater. It’s the work of Stew, and Heidi Rodewald, the team behind the fantastic Passing Strange, which also first took flight here. A bit more ramshackle than the earlier show, The Total Bent is no less thrilling, as the rocker Stew moves out of his hipster comfort zone to tell the father-and-son tale of a young man (the brilliant Ato Blankson-Wood) trying to break free of the spell cast by his gospel-preaching, crowd-electrifying dad (the always amazing Vondie Curtis Hall). Salvation seems to come in the form of a craven British producer (sleek David Cale). Or does it?
If you’re at all familiar with the Stew/Rodewald collaboration, you know it produces wildly pleasing music across pretty much every contemporary genre. The Total Bent is no exception and, as always, this one is just packed with heart.