A first kiss can make a couple feel as though they are flying through the air. And that thrill is one of the sweet spots in Paramour, the new musical that opens this spring at the Lyric Theatre.
In this show, set in the golden era of Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, a young movie star shares a first kiss with a composer. As the couple embrace, the stage directions note: “Teeterboard guys launch into the air like fireworks.”
One senses the footprint of Cirque du Soleil. And indeed, a creative team from the Quebec-based global entertainment company is bringing its special brand of physical and celestial beauty to the romantic trope of an actress torn between two lovers in their first show on Broadway. The musical explores the emotional complexities between “reel romance” and “real love,” as a brilliant and tyrannical film director elevates his young discovery to stardom and seeks to control her heart as well as her career.
After three decades of playing to 160 million people in 400 cities in more than 60 countries, Cirque’s new $25 million production seeks to intertwine its signature circus arts within the narrative of a traditional musical. And despite its past success, Cirque has set a high bar for itself with this new venture.
“Because of our legacy, people expect extraordinary acrobats and a certain amount of whimsy and ethereal spectacle,” says Scott Zeiger, the president and managing director of Cirque du Soleil Theatrical. “But in order to compete and succeed on Broadway, we have to have a story-driven narrative and emotional payoff equal to that. We have to deliver on both counts.”
Pushing what Zeiger calls “the hot buttons” of Broadway ticket buyers will be the love triangle at the center of Paramour — a melodrama that is wittily and sumptuously played out in the language of classic films. As Cleopatra, the young actress sings, “How do I choose, how do I choose? The great emperor who conquered me or the soldier I can’t resist?”
The conceit of a film director with an epic and electric imagination elevates Paramour into a hyperrealistic world where the theatrical elements of music and dance can be seamlessly welded to the circus arts. More than half of the show’s cast of 38 are world-class acrobats executing feats, says Zeiger — something never before seen on the Broadway stage.
The team assembled for this spectacular hybrid is a mix as well. It includes seasoned theater professionals, like Zeiger, a well-known Broadway producer; Cirque’s creative personnel, led by Jean-Francois Bouchard, the company’s chief creative content officer; and Paris-based stage director and choreographer Philippe Decouflé. Bouchard and Decouflé have been charged with creating the story with an assist from West Hyler, a veteran of the Big Apple Circus and associate director of Jersey Boys.
Decouflé’s experimentations with film and dance are providing what Zeiger describes as the thrilling high-definition cinematic touches in Paramour. He says that these projections, along with the acrobatics, will amplify the emotions of the story as well as advance the narrative. He adds, “They will heighten the excitement, increase the gravitas of a situation, or take you to a surreal place.”
Composing the musical pastiche to accompany the epic film tableaus are frequent Cirque contributors Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, better known as Bob & Bill. Their anthems will be supplemented with a half-dozen songs by Andreas Carlsson, a Top 40 pop songwriter who has written hits for the likes of Celine Dion, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and ’NSync.
One of Dubuc and Lessard’s specific talents is what Zeiger calls “creating air” within a score — those orchestral vamps in the circus arts that allow for the inevitable “redos” of a particular acrobatic trick. The Lyric, one of the largest of the Broadway houses, has the dimension to fully exploit Cirque’s aerial skills but also allows for the artists to break the fourth wall.
However, Zeiger insists that these spectacles will not halt the momentum of the story itself. “We’ve painstakingly taken every measure to avoid that,” he says. “We want to make sure that the action on the stage doesn’t abruptly stop and the audience thinks, Oh, here comes a juggling act. Unlike the usual process for Cirque, we created the story first, scene by scene, and the acts then had to fall within that blueprint.”
Aiding that process is the familiar theatrical trope of “a dream ballet” — think of Curley and Laurie in Oklahoma! —which will be put to good use in Paramour. What has yet to be determined is exactly how many aerial stunts the actors cast in the three major roles will be called upon to do.
Despite the safety net of the Cirque brand, the creators of Paramour are aware of the stakes of this highly anticipated bow for the newly created theatrical division. (Its portfolio also includes The Wiz Live! as both a TV special later this year and a staged revival in the 2016–2017 Broadway season.)
The show itself will be a high-wire act. Zeiger is confident that his team is more than up to the challenge. “We won’t disappoint,” he says, calling to mind the motto of Karl Wallenda, the patriarch of the famous flying family: “To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting.”