It may at first appear inauspicious that Cirque du Soleil has chosen the Lyric Theatre for its Broadway debut, Paramour, where not too long ago Spider-Man spent months filling 42nd Street with a veritable symphony of free-falling actors and their crunching bones. But the audience will soon be both relieved and disappointed, as the Cirque in Cirque du Soleil is here shrunk to the size of a peanut.
For the most part eschewing the stunts for which the group has become legendary, Paramour is instead a rather pedestrian musical take on A Star Is Born: when big-time Hollywood director A.J. Golden (Jeremy Kushnier) needs a new leading lady, he finds exactly what he wants in lounge singer Indigo James (Ruby Lewis). But the filmmaker soon turns tyrant when Indigo falls in love with her composer, Joey Green (Ryan Vona), threatening his total control over her life on and off the screen.
The plot evokes Hitchcock’s tumultuous relationships with his leading ladies. Golden, however, is far more sinister, planning what appear to be kidnap and rape, though as narrator of Paramour he pitches the story to the audience as a simple one about a man who discovers he has a soul. Still, the climax, which involves studio goons chasing Indigo and Joey around the set like the barrels let loose in Donkey Kong, certainly points to bodily coercion that is at odds with Golden’s “I guess I had a heart all along” routine.
Granted, Cirque du Soleil’s theatrics are not entirely missing from Paramour, and when the actors are replaced by acrobats, the effect is thrilling. In particular, there is a an absolutely stunning sequence in which the twin brothers Andrew and Kevin Atherton appear to dance in the air, suspended only by a single harness and occasionally only by one another. At another point, Golden’s rage leads to his forcing a series of ill-prepared stunts in a Western he is filming, but this use of dramatic tension to accentuate the acrobatics is too rare. Instead, Paramour confuses the filler with the substance, and we are left wondering why the world’s most famous circus would undervalue its greatest asset.