Before talking more in depth about the show, I feel the need to point out YET AGAIN that despite all the millions of dollars available to pay for original art, the main promotional art for “La La Land” was, shall we say, quite similar to the preexisting Broadway show art for AAIP, which thankfully they are still using because it is so beautiful.
The show begins with David Seadon-Young, who plays supporting male character Adam, sitting at a piano on an otherwise empty stage and telling us that oh boy does he have a story for us, or something like that, and isn’t war terrible but ain’t love grand. I don’t remember because I was immediately stunned by a little bit of stage magic – a huge tarp-like French flag is lifted up by ensemblists and brought down a second later to reveal an empty stage –they vanished the piano! I’m sure that’s a simple trapdoor kind of thing under the stage or something but I literally gasped and everyone laughed at me probably but it was the best day.
The story starts in Paris as American GIs are saying goodbye to their French loves and French soldiers are coming home (or not) to their anguished families, all amid a lovely tableau of ballet-dancing French civilians. We see our tiny leading lady Lise (Leanne Cope), dark and mysterious (while still being properly English pale), help a Nazi lady out of a pickle (was being attacked by some civilians) and you’re like oh I guess we’re supposed to think Lise is a lovely kind person…because…she’s…helping…a nazi….This action does turn out to say an awful lot about how kind she is indeed, in a way that I guess her helping an innocent child who fell or something wouldn’t, but still, no one gets points for helping Nazis. Well, unless the points are from Jerry, who sees this encounter and is like wow that beautiful little paledark flutterbug is so selfless, I MUST HAVE HER.
The crowds ebb and flow and Jerry loses sight of his new love interest. Jerry (or as Lise will say, “Zherreeeee” and it sounds like ‘cherie’ which just a nice little play on it get it because she love him) wanders into a bar and meets Adam (wounded veteran, maybe he knew him before I don’t remember) and Henri (rich French guy, played by Haydn Oakley) and is like hay let’s be bros also I need a place to live and a job and they’re like great stay and work here, new best friend. Things are great in musicals. Adam is a composer and pianist, while Henri works in his parents’ business but hides his secret life as a song-and-dance man (not a singer or dancer; a song-and-dance man) from them as they are serious people who would seriously disapprove. Henri also has a girlfriend and the boys are like you should totes propose to her! Oh silly boys, you have no idea.
Meanwhile, Lise auditions for the Paris ballet, for which Adam is the pianist, and he falls in love with her because she treats him like a human being despite his slight limp. Then the guys realize that Lise is the woman Henri is planning to marry, and of course we know Jerry is in love with her too so early on you’re thinking of Heath Ledger in “Ten Things I Hate About You” asking in his special way why everyone’s obsessed with Alex Mack. Lise is a beautiful dancer, and she makes the company now that it’s benefiting from a new wave of money from American philanthropist Milo Davenport (Zoe Rainey). Milo is one of those brash and assertive women who are annoying for really no better reason than that they’re confident. Milo sees Jerry and is like “I like!” but pretends she likes his art and gets him hired as the ballet’s chief, um, art maker. This lets him spend more time with Lise, but then when it’s revealed that she’s Henri’s pretty much fiancée, Jerry starts sort of dating Milo/letting her buy him things and you’re like ahhh figure your shit out your shit is a mess, characters! Milo is a thankless role, really, because she’s rich and loud and wears bright colors and isn’t the one Jerry’s supposed to be with so you hate her but I bet the story from her perspective would be amazing but we aren’t here for her so shut it. Zoe Rainey does a decent enough job, but it’s hard to make the character more than two-dimensional, or make her likeable, so Milo stays the former and isn’t the latter.
Despite all the unwanted relaysh drama in the book, the show really is a series of interactions between Lise and Zherreeeee, where they dance by the river and it’s s’wonderful. Leanne Cope was a principal in the Royal Ballet, and Robbie in the NYC Ballet, so they are two of the best in the world. Even though the show was generally well constructed and there are some gorgeous extended ballet sequences, I wanted the show to be 100x more them doing ballet, I don’t care if it would have been too much for some. It’s GORGEOUS. (And don’t just tell me to go see a ballet because I did that recently and it was soo boring and ACTUALLY, there still wasn’t enough dancing! Mostly people were standing and doing the presentation wave and lookie here moves with their arms. Also the story was creepy af I mean an army of teenage ghost brides who capture living men in the woods what the actual sexist nonsense.) When they dance together, it says more about what they are feeling and what we’re supposed to be feeling than any dialogue could (or does). It’s magical and it almost excuses the weak parts of the show. You see that despite Zherry’s dalliance with Milo and despite Lise’s expected engagement, they love each other and are supposed to end up together. Although they clearly know that, they are both conflicted by their feelings of obligation to their respective others, Zherry in terms of financial support/sugarmama and his entry into the legitimate Parisian art world, and Lise, we learn, because Henri’s family saved her from the Nazis. You can’t walk out on someone who hid your little Jewish behind from the Nazis!
My favorite scene, I think, is their adorable dance to the song “Liza”, when Jerry tells Lise he’s going to call her Liza when they have their secret meetings by the Seine, so they can pretend to be other people without all the baggage they’re lugging and enjoy carefree moments in each other’s company without worrying about what in means outside their love bubble and also so they could shoehorn some storyline around this particular Gershwin song. I don’t mind the Mamma Mia-ing here, because their dance is so playful and lovely. Jerry moves Lise around their park bench in a mischievous manner, carrying and tossing and lifting her this way and that as she reluctantly-at-first-but-then-wholeheartedly joins in the fun. Robbie really shows off here that he is the reincarnation of Gene Kelly, because not only is he the world’s best dancer, but he can sing too. And to sing well while dancing like that? and lifting a human? And being sooo charming? He is amazing. I’m still glad Michael Cerveris won the Tony for “Fun Home” but can we just throw all kinds of other awards at Robbie so he never leaves musical theatre? Like a Pulitzer or a Nobel or something I don’t care just make sure he stays.
Oh no my real favorite scene is when Jerry gets Lise fired (ish) from her job at the Galeries Lafayette, where I bought two of my favorite shirts that I never wear. He pesters her while she’s working as a salesgirl so obviously she’s the one that gets blamed for the ruckus he causes but it’s okay because of the aforementioned charm. I forget what song it is to because jukebox musical so it doesn’t really matter for the plot and they and all the shoppers do this incredible dance with colorful umbrellas and Jerry glides around the jewelry counters and you’re just like this guy is Gene Kelly hot damn. It's impossible not to smile like a fool like a FOOL.
Aside from some of the song shoehorning, the weak spots come from giving supporting characters too much to do. It doesn’t really add anything to the story to give Milo her own songs. The purpose of that in any other show would be to flesh out her character and explain her actions, but since this is a jukebox show, and the songs were not written for this character, they don’t do anything for her, so it’s just kind of a waste of time. Same for Adam, who is a beloved character because he’s so nice and is another secret (not so secret?) Jew, but he still could have been edited a bit. Having so much of him being sad starts to give off that icky vibe that oh maybe we are supposed to be rooting for him instead because ‘he’s so nice’ and then you have the whole ‘nice guy’s entitlement’ problem creeping in that shouldn’t in any way be connected to this decent character because we will start to turn on him and no one wants that. That’s a very minor quibble though, because I do like Adam a lot. Most egregiously, though, is what they do with Henri. Haydn is a great actor, and it’s great for him to show off in a big showstopping musical number…but not in this show. His big long dream sequence “I’ll Build a Stairway To Paradise” is by far the most expensive-looking scene in the show, with shiny sets and sparkly showgirl costumes. And it is one of the longest songs (at least it seems it), yet it does nothing for the plot. I still cannot believe it didn’t get cut in previews on Broadway or really previews at the Chatelet in Paris, their pre-Broadway tryout (I love that they did it there). Every Broadway producer says that the rigorous vetting process for each and every musical number ensures that songs that are included in final versions advance the plot, or are necessary for character development. I can’t think of one good reason for this number to still be in the show, except that the casts always have a strong male non-Jerry singer they want to show off. That’s not a good reason.
Luckily, that ridiculousness (sorry Haydn you did a good job at it though) is followed by the most exquisite extended ballet, and one of the best dance scenes I’ve seen (up there with Sutton’s “Anything Goes”). Lise, in her big debut, is dancing and only gets through her performance by imagining Zherry up there with her. They do this surealist-art inspired ballet that from the costumes to the set to the sometimes-jerky-but-still-beautiful-movement looks like a Miro painting. It’s exquisite and weird and you never want it to end. To have this big dramatic moment expressed only through movement (this is the part that uses the AAIP music with that da da da, da da da da da daaaaaa you get it) is something very special and rare to see in musical theatre. I would totally second-act this show every week if that were a thing respectable people could do just to keep watching that scene.
Robbie and Leanne are so perfect together, I can’t imagine anyone else up there (despite the fact that Robbie has an alternate for one show per week, who I’m sure is wonderful, but man alive). They truly are finds, especially Robbie who really is the reincarnation of Gene Kelly. I hope more musicals that feature ballet get made so he and Leanne stay in the theatre for a long time. It was just announced that Robbie is going to be in a concert version of “Brigadoon” in November with two of my all-times, Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale (erma erma erma) (I must go), but I don’t think it’s a very balletic show or role; I hope I’m wrong. I know his character is part of a big dance but like with swords? I think he also dies, spoiler. Anyway, I’m off track as per uzh. AAIP was so beautiful and is really just a great time. If you are in London, you must see it.
The programs are gorgeous (again, see above), but they only sell the large souvenir-style ones that are twice as expensive as the normal ones. They are really big and won't fit in any bag allowed inside a theatre. :/ But they are cool. But so expensive. but cool.
It's a really big theatre and seems a lot more modern in terms of facilities than most West End theatres. Like normal sized humans can fit in the seats. As usual there aren't enough ladies toilets but what can you do besides oh yeah build more.
OH someone front row center was filming so at intermission I told the house manager and like every usher and pointed out the offender. They told her to stop filming. Like, come on people, where is your sense of JUSTICE? KICK. FILMERS. OUT. ON. THEIR. NO. GOOD. BUTTS. I feel like my entire bucket list now is just to see a theatre have the balls to deal with offenders properly, i.e. kicking them out. THAT'S ALL I WANT. that's not all i want.
They all came out and were super friendly wheeee!!!