Cirque du Soleil: Paramour

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(See here for more Cirque du Soleil reviews from The Roarbots!)

After more than 30 years and nearly three dozen different shows, Cirque du Soleil has clearly become an institution. Over the years, they’ve taken their fair share of risks and exploded the boundaries of what was considered possible not only on stage but also by the human body.

There have been touring big-top shows, touring arena shows, and resident theater shows, and each has wowed and blown away audiences around the world. Not content to rest on its laurels, though, the brand continues to stretch the horizons of what’s possible and what audiences should expect from a Cirque du Soleil performance.

The touring Toruk show is evidence of how far they’re willing to stray from their core to put on a spectacle. Added to that list? The brand-new Broadway show, Paramour.

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Cirque du Soleil Theatrical is a relatively new division, and Paramour is the company’s first-ever show designed exclusively for Broadway. There have been other shows with extended runs in New York (Wintuk played Madison Square Garden seasonally for several years), but Paramour is the first resident Broadway show.

Paramour is playing at the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street, which was also home to Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, so it’s well equipped with the rigging and technical expertise necessary for complicated acrobatics and stunts. ….. Or so we hope.

The show breaks the Cirque du Soleil mold in many ways. Not least of which is that it essentially flips the CDS model on its head. Whereas most shows are dazzling acrobatic spectacles with strong musical accompaniment, Paramour is essentially a musical with strong acrobatic elements.

But the show doesn’t suffer for this reversal. In fact, it soars just as high and reinvigorates the brand with fresh energy and – once again – blows out the boundaries of what they’re capable of achieving.

The show “spins the thrilling tale of a beautiful young actress forced to choose between love and art in the glamorous world of Golden Age Hollywood,” and it does a great job – through the sets and costumes – of evoking the era. In other words, there’s plenty of glitz, glitter, and bombast.

We follow the meteoric rise of young starlet Indigo (Ruby Lewis), who has caught the eye of film director A.J. (Jeremy Kushnier) who wants to make her his new star (and so much more). Alas, she’s caught in a love triangle with piano player Joey (Ryan Vona), who is also tasked with writing the sweeping love number for A.J.’s new movie.

Whereas other Cirque du Soleil performances may only have the slightest hint of a sustained narrative, Paramour focuses on the story. Indeed, as a piece of musical theater, there’s more spoken dialogue in Paramour than in the previous 30-something CDS shows combined. (Probably.)

But that doesn’t mean the show isn’t still centered around a beating heart of acrobatics. Paramour finds clever ways to incorporate aerial and acrobatic numbers into the script, and there are quite a few that simply astonish. Although this might be the first CDS show I’ve seen that doesn’t include a troupe of young Chinese acrobats, it still finds a way to include a brief diabolos routine.

There’s not an abundance of acrobatic acts here, but what’s included is spellbinding: contortion, juggling, Chinese pole, teeterboard, trampoline, and aerial strap (among others).

Highlights include twins Kevin and Andrew Atherton’s strap act toward the end of the first act, and the culmination of the love triangle in the second act with “Everything” and some absolutely amazing aerial work.

Admittedly, the story does tread too close to outright cheese (during the second act, especially), but the acrobatic routines, special effects, and sets more than make up for it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again: no matter how many Cirque du Soleil shows I see (and I’ve seen more than a dozen now), each one manages to have at least one brand-new, breathtaking aspect I haven’t seen before. Paramour, by design, has several.

Director and “conceiver” Philippe Decouflé has outdone himself here. Paramour is incredibly different from “standard” Cirque du Soleil, and it would be apples and oranges to compare it to most other musicals currently playing on Broadway.

It really is a perfect blending of Broadway spectacle and Cirque du Soleil magic.

(Disclosure: I was invited to an advance preview performance of Paramour. All opinions remain my own.)

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