Few love a good ol’-fashioned musical more than I.
But does anyone hate a bad one more?
There’s no way of knowing. And speaking of not knowing, that brings us to PARAMOUR, the atrocious and incompetent effort now being offered by Cirque du Soleil at the Lyric Theatre. It shows that this troupe knows nothing about Broadway musicals. Cirque has always claimed that their previous shows had stories, incomprehensible though they all were. Now they’ve traded the inscrutable for the mundane.
Beware, Cirque fans! If in the past you’ve loved to “Ooooh!” and “Ahhhh!” at the many wondrous stunts enacted by gymnasts and acrobats, you’ll be using your vocal cords far less frequently at PARAMOUR. About a third of the show is devoted to pyrotechnic feats. But because Cirque rented a Broadway house, it felt compelled to spend the other two-thirds of the show doing a musical.
Too bad the company didn’t hire people who knew something about the art form. No wonder that there’s no credit that states “Book by.” Who’d want to admit that he, she or they wrote this cold-pizza version of 42 ND STREET?
The title page does acknowledge that West Hyler provided “Story,” but no one takes the rap for the actual dialogue. See the show (if you must) and you’ll understand why anyone would be ashamed to put his or her name to the clichéd lines that permeate the two-hour mess.
The principals’ names are Mr. Golden, Mr. Green and Indigo. What is this, CLUE? No, certainly not, because PARAMOUR is utterly clueless in knowing what a 21 st century musical should offer.
To be fair, Golden is much more often referred to A.J., befitting the head of a movie studio. The name was probably chosen because, as the program informs, the show takes place in “The Golden Age of Hollywood.”
Mr. Green is almost always called Joey, a diminutive worthy of a just-starting- out composer. He’s been hired by A.J., which leads to conflict because he covets A.J.’s discovery, the aforementioned Indigo, a lovely lass with an equally lovely voice.
You guessed it: Indigo must choose between The Composer She Loves and The Mogul Who Can Help Her. If she selects Joey, A.J. insists “You’ll never work again,” mercifully omitting the words “in this town,” which would have made it a full-blown cliché instead of a half-hearted one.
Nothing will stop Joey. “We don’t need A.J.; we’ll be just fine without him,” he says in lines worthy of a naif who doesn’t know how the world (let alone Hollywood) works.
Should this next sentence be a spoiler alert? No, because you know that Indigo will eventually proclaim “I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to be a star.”
That’s the level of dialogue and plot. Subsidiary characters include the squeaky-voiced tootsie who belies her brainless appearance to come up with a good idea. There’s a gay joke of sorts, too.
At the very least, the creators of PARAMOUR subconsciously know that there’s not much entertainment value in their dialogue, for they pull focus from it by having acrobats perform to the right, left and behind the main characters while they speak. For example, while Indigo is singing, gymnasts behind her are suspended upside-down from the rafters. Is the message that her voice makes everyone go head over heels? No, that’s reading too much into it.
So why did 42 ND STREET get away with a plot just as clichéd? Because in bringing a ‘30s movie to life, it was clearly a nostalgic exercise. In a way, its trite plot was grandfather-claused into acceptance.
Recall, though, that 42 nd STREET debuted almost four decades ago. PARAMOUR acts as if it really is a new musical and has no idea how painfully retro it is.
A big production number shows us that A.J. had made Indigo the title star of a CLEOPATRA film. All well and good, but why, on screens on each side of the theater, are we shown the logo for the 1963 film version of CLEOPATRA that starred Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison? If this is that film, who’s Indigo playing? Is this an understudy rehearsal? And while a case could be made that “The Golden Age of Hollywood” occurred in the ‘60s, most people give that title to an earlier time.
Then we segue to the filming of CALAMITY JANE. It rather resembles ROBBIN’ HOOD, the fictitious musical that was the musical-within- a-musical of the 2007 Kander-and-Ebb show CURTAINS. Trouble is, that was a spoof of the type of show that would appeal to a vulgar producer. This CALAMITY JANE we’re supposed to take seriously.
In the midst of these little dramas, acrobats appear to do their thing. As soon as they finish their remarkable acts, the crowd erupts with applause that says “THAT’S what we came to see.” A juggler alternates between three O-rings and an umbrella. This is part of “The Dream,” as the program informs us, without telling us whose it is. (The creators apparently don’t know or care.) Zombies invade the aisles. (Honest.)
There’s a screen on the back wall on which various images are projected. A live-cam allows us a stage-filling image of Indigo’s face, allowing us to clearly see the pearl-drop microphone on her forehead. Those unfamiliar with the device might assume the poor woman either is of Hindu origin or has an unfortunate growth above her eyes.
We’ve all heard the clichés that those who fall in love hear bells ring or a choir sings. Here it means that eight lampshades circle around the lover’s head. (Seriously: eight lampshades.)
The culmination is a chase scene in which both chasers and chase-ee jump to their seeming death, but hidden trampolines are there to break their fall and the suspense. So we see more bounces than those who tried to cash checks issued by Garth Drabinsky. (In case you can’t place the name, he’s the now- convicted criminal who in fact built this mammoth theater.)
Trampolines, of course, offer no reality to the scene, for when The Intended Victim jumps back onto a landing, a bevy of chasers are there to meet him. But they don’t capture him, because the trampoline number isn’t yet finished.
It does come to an end when some of the chasers lug on a mattress without any attempt whatsoever to conceal what they’re doing. They throw it onto the unseen trampoline so that it will break the bounce of any who now throw themselves onto it. That brings the scene to a close.
Yes, the acrobats and gymnasts are marvelous. But just because Cirque du Soleil originated in Montreal, must its performers have egos the size of that city? Many of them, after each stunt, look directly at the audience as if to say “Wasn’t what I just did really something? Can you believe how great I am?” One even concludes his act by pumping his fist at us, which apparently means “See?! No stunt can conquer me!”
This self-importance extends to The Emcee. When he tackles a song and holds a long note, he looks at his watch as if to say “Look how long I’ve been singing without taking a breath! Aren’t I amazing?”
Although this obnoxious behavior has always been part of the Cirque agenda, it’s less jarring in a revue. A musical, however — despite having characters that burst into song — does rely on a certain reality. That’s broken here after each stunt, for characters just wait until the acrobats stand center stage, bask in their applause and then trot off while the characters wait and wait before they can go on with the show.
At the curtain call, the acrobats came out to thunderous applause – but when Jeremy Kushnier (A.J.), Ryan Vona (Joey) and Ruby Lewis (Indigo) emerged to take the final bows, the applause diminished considerably.
The most telling line of the entire night? A.J. insists that “If we’re going to make art, there can be no distractions.” Guess there were plenty of distractions in the making of PARAMOUR.