Paramour – Impressions 2.0

By: Douglas Metzger – Long Island, NY (USA)

As a recap to my last review of this wonderful show, I’m lucky enough to be a ‘Passionate’ – one of those people who have followed Cirque for many years. Through those years I’ve made many cirque=adjacent friends as well as with cast and crew alike. Paramour is no exception.

I had previously related my fascination (unrelated to the naming of this publication) with Kurios and how it too has gone through revamps and tweaking between the time it premiered and through its various touring locations and most notably imposed financial constraints. These changes noticeably tightened the show and in some cases trimmed well respected elements.

In the case of Paramour, lengthy initial previews were used to test audience response and flow. This finally led to opening night and the formal launch of the show.

Going back to my opening above, I’m enthusiastic about Cirque in general and the group of friends I have formed that are similarly inclined to travel widely to see shows and gather. Some travel great distances – China, France, Japan, Mexico, Europe in general, South America, and certainly long distances in the US as well. In July of this year a few of us got together s decided to further meet again in NYC. We planned this knowing two (2) cirque productions would be in town together: Paramour and Kurios. These friends are passionate about Paramour and Kurios similarly having personal friendships within cast and crew alike. What better a day to be spent than seeing two shows, one mid-afternoon, one in the evening. We’d leave one show, have dinner (and celebrate a birthday – Hi Heather Smith!) then travel a few short miles to see Kurios on Randall’s Island.

One dot naught, and Two dot naught…

In mid-August Paramour announced it would go dark for a few days and re-tool. This announcement preempted scheduled performances where tickets had been sold. These tickets were refunded or exchanged for a future performance. As of the last Sunday show that week (August 21st) Paramour went dark until the immediately following Thursday evening (August 25th). During this time an extensive and, mind you, very expensive, re-tooling took place. Operationally speaking this was a very costly undertaking in many ways. As a note: prior to opening on Broadway Cirque entered negotiations with various Broadway unions. Since not all show talent was part of these unions, Cirque needed a waiver. This waiver though prevents Paramour from using off-site rehearsal facilities while the show is being actively staged. Financially speaking one would have preferred to use the lower cost off-site rehearsal facility at Long Island’s Grumman Studio’s for such a retool. (This facility hosted original production development and rehearsals.) Because of this union limitation, the Lyric Theater was used including all the associated supporting talent, crew, house, facility and orchestra teams.

Social media storm – It should be noted, again, that the launch of 2.0 was continually promoted in social media. Most cast and crew members maintain individual, if not professional, based social media accounts. These seemingly went into overdrive, and have remained at a very heightened state of use ever since. Most days you can find numerous new postings on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the now closed Vine. Cast and crew even go out of their way to post self-produced and interesting ‘bits’ unrelated to the show. These grab numerous behind the scenes aspects of the show itself and make for attractive and informative alternate content supporting an eager audience. It becomes a veritable PR bonanza at times. It’s also heartening to see Tweets acknowledged by cast and crew alike. Audience members tagging the theater or cast member will typically get a note of thanks or ‘like’ at the end of each day. The new dawn of social interaction is being wholeheartedly embraced by this production, at the request of Cirque corporate.

Print and TV media – The 2.0 rework was also covered in Broadway media, such as Playbill, TheaterTimes, and the local arms of national print press, all in a favorable manner. Performers were also dispatched to a lengthy list of daytime and evening talk / entertainment shows as well. This included the likes of Today, Kelly Ripa, The View, Entertainment Tonight, etc.

To this reviewer 2.0 has been much better received than its original incarnation. Show consistency, balance and structure are vastly improved. The storyline is also communicated in a more broadway-esque styling. All of these changes should help to bring this production towards 21st century audience expectations, previously not met.

The most notable change to the show was the overall story structure. This changed storyline arc places the narrative of the lead, AJ, front and center, literally. This narrative comes and goes throughout the show helping to fill gaps as well as assisting the audience with the explanation of artistic interpretation.

Storyline aside, other significant changes have taken place with the addition of new components such as Unicycle, German Wheel, and introducing the shows namesake song – Paramour. Reworked existing components include modified Banquine, use of Korean Plank, Teeter and Pole/Lamp post use. High expectation existing acts were expanded as well, sometimes appearing to run a full double of their original iteration. These include the Atherton strap segment in Cleopatra and the acrobatic representation of the love triangle – Hand to Trap. Each of these changes is wholly welcomed. In the case of Unicycle, it’s the first heavily acrobatic performance of the show; the cycler and assistant glide effortlessly around the stage in seemingly impossible scenarios. This act ends with the audience raring to jump to their feet in appreciation. German Wheel is introduced in a supporting role as well. It’s become a staple of Cirque, with its inclusion into this show not going unnoticed. The title song ‘Paramour’ (first introduced underlying television adverts and then suspiciously dropped from 1.0 in its entirety) is a welcome addition. To those that had previously noticed, there was no namesake song in the original production. This new inclusion places a nice artistic bow on the show when hearing it, especially since it’s an immensely well-formed song.

With respect to reworked acts, the established show stoppers: Atherton straps and Hand to Trap are practically doubled in length as previously mentioned. At times this extension might seem repetitive. The nightmare street number including Lamp Posts is a feat for certain. How the performers toss themselves about – in sometimes death-defying manipulation – astounds. The context of this act, though, remains fraught. Zombies. I just don’t get this inclusion. It feels disturbingly whimsical in its misplacement.

One component I continue to enjoy is the use of drone technology. I believe it represents a new vision for Broadway and cirque alike. Having seen audience reception to their use during a duet I do believe the audience doesn’t really understand what they’re watching until the very last moment. At that time a single drone flies through a hoola hoop, then the technology truly sets itself apart. It might be suggested to launch the drones from the two center isles and fly them to the stage. In this manner the audience will have an immediate immersive connection with the flighty craft.

One notable, but unfortunate, detraction for me was the dumbing down of lead female, Indigo. In 1.0 her mid-western ‘hick’ upbringing was immediately quieted after introduction. The historical iteration of such a character being that of ditzy brunette just off the bus on the Great White Way, ready to be descended upon by scrupulous producers/ casting agents. In 2.0 they embrace this classic stereotype. In 1.0 she was more quick-witted and full of moxie from almost the outset. This change unfortunately plays well to support the newer storyline and eventual reveal near shows end, but it could be better interpreted. Strong women characters are positive to progressive expectations.

Last notable change to the show was the saloon dance act. This brings out all of the characters for an epic western style dance number. In 1.0 this was the large opening number, with it now moved deep into the 2nd act, lending complexity to the acidic love triangle. This triangle culminates its arc in the shows ending number, Rooftops.

Rooftops is artistically interesting though continues to be conceptually stunted. From the use of elevator and stair tower projections to implementation of a chase, it’s juvenile and harsh. Most worrying, the number is outwardly choreographed to become a parody of itself. It’s the most oblique and forced act of the show, though athletically impressive, at times using poles, tramps, and elevated platform to support shear madness. The only way this reviewer would know how to properly incorporate the staging would be to draw upon previous incarnations of West Side Story fight scenes. The set used for the act is impressive, huge and certainly expensive. No wonder they wish to keep it, at any cost.

In closing, my first review assessed a production 70% complete. I’d now say 2.0 is 90% complete. If slight changes are made it can certainly be a sustaining production throughout Broadway and live on quite well through 2017-2018, and possibly beyond. The reworked show has a vastly superior Broadway flavor to it than did 1.0. It’s captured the essence of true Broadway, but with a 21st century view. Incorporating extreme athletics, as well as technological innovations, will certainly drag a stunted and somewhat entrenched Broadway into bigger and better things. This is certainly something Broadway needs right now and well into the future in order to capture those critical dollars. With this concept cirque has resoundingly placed itself as a force within this theater community and they should be represented for quite some time to come. At the end of the day, even if this show doesn’t capture needed viewership in Times Square, it’s comforting to know it can leave and go on a world tour to become a standard bearer for the company.