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How many producers and associate producers does it take to get a screen to stage adaptation onto a West End stage? Fifty-one! That’s about the same number as the total of performers and musicians combined. Do they each have their own producer?

Though it is new to the stage this, like the 1951 film on which it is based, recycles Gershwin songs like I Got Rhythm, The Man I Love and But Not For Me from stage musicals Girl Crazy and Lady Be Good 20-30 years before the film, songs from other Gershwin film musicals like Funny Face, plus piano concertos & preludes, rhapsodies and symphonic poems! Gershwin may have been the first real crossover composer and this may well be the ultimate mash-up!

Set at the end of the Second World War in Paris, obviously, it tells the story of two American GI’s who decide to stay, musician Adam Hochberg and artist Jerry Mulligan. Adam’s new Parisian friend Henri Baurel is a wannabe performer expected to continue the family business. His family have protected young Jewish girl Lise Dassin during the occupation and now she seems to feel she owes Henri her heart, though she’s fallen for Jerry (and Adam for her). All three end up involved in a new ballet – Lise dancing, Jerry designing and Adam writing the score, after which Lise is forced to choose and Henri get’s ‘outed’ to his parents.

It pulls all (both) of its punches in the second half with an extraordinary scene where a Paris jazz club transforms into NYC’s Radio City Music Hall and back again, and the ballet itself, though the opening transition from occupation to liberation is brilliantly staged too. I liked the rest, but it didn’t blow me away like the reviews and recommendations predicted. Despite all the exceptional components – good story and great score, Bob Crowley’s modern art inspired design with projections that make scene changes simply flow, Christopher Wheeldon’s light-as-air staging and choreography, a great orchestra under John Rigby (which sounded a lot more than fourteen) and a fine set of performances – it only occasionally swept me away. At times, I felt I was in a musical theatre museum admiring but not emotionally engaged with the show. Some of the French accents were a bit dodgy too!

For a ballet dancer, Robert Fairchild is a damn good singer as well as an exciting dancer; he stole the show for me. Fellow ballet dancer Leanne Cope was terrific too in her mostly dancing role, and David Seadon-Young was excellent as Adam. There’s a lovely cameo from Jane Asher as Henri’s stern mum, looking decades younger than her true age. I can’t fault the show, but it didn’t captivate me as I thought it would. Too big a theatre (and a stuffy one too)? An off night for me? Over-hyped? Who knows?…….but don’t let me put you off.

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I was traumatised before the play started. Jane Asher is old enough to play a seventy-something, her stage son is Alexander Hanson and her real daughter plays her 39-year old stage daughter. Once I’d recovered, I had one of the finest times at a new play in a long time.

After a short preface in 1964, the piece moves to Easter weekend in 1997 at the Pennington home. The family has gathered for William’s 75th birthday. He’s a recently retired judge, recently diagnosed with dementia. His eldest son Sam is autistic and lives in a nearby home. His second son Giles is a doctor with a 22-year-old son Simon, 19-year-old daughter Emily and a shaky marriage to Sophie. William is estranged from his youngest child Alice following the birth of her illegitimate mixed race daughter Aurelia 17 years ago, but she has returned for this occasion. What follows is an extraordinary yet entirely plausible series of re-opened wounds, revelations and some reconciliation. William is cantankerous, to put it mildly, preoccupied with the damage Tory sleaze is doing and with ensuring a male Pennington line. His long suffering wife Olivia is devoted to him and all of her children and grandchildren; a deeply sympathetic character.

Andrew Keatley’s play is beautifully written, brilliantly structured and plotted, without an ounce of flab. A captivating story that unfolds enticingly and oozes authenticity. The cast is extraordinary, with not one but two real life parent-child pairings, Jane Asher & Katie Scarfe and Alexander & Tom Hanson. Clive Francis is simply magnificent as William and Nick Samson plays late forties autistic son Sam with great skill and sensitivity. Both had exit applause after their most effective scenes. I was puzzled by the choice to play it front of the bare theatre back wall and frame, but it was so good it didn’t seem to matter. There were a few too many scene breaks which weren’t as slick as they could have been, but again the quality of everything else made that seem unimportant.

Unquestionably a highlight of the year and surely too good to end here, it’s crying out for a transfer and more deserving of one that anything I’ve seen of late, but you’d be wise to catch it in the more intimate Park Theatre while you can.

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