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theatre review

Paramour is Quebec circus company Cirque du Soleil’s first attempt at truly creating a work of musical theatre.RICHARD TERMINE

Cirque du Soleil's Paramour is crashing and burning on Broadway – and there's no point in calling the paramedics. No team of show doctors could cure this bafflingly bad show set in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Paramour is the Quebec circus company's first attempt at truly creating a work of musical theatre and cracking the Great White Way. Rather than stories and song augmenting their signature mix of circus tricks and otherworldly aesthetic, however, the tepid tunes, pointless plot and insipid characters here put even their best routines in a third-rate context.

There may be a few exciting sequences in this show – a high-flying teeter-totter act on the set of what looks like a garish remake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; or an aerial strap routine that swings identical twins over the crowd in the middle of a Cleopatra pageant – but the talented performers keep being undercut by cringe-worthy dialogue and lyrics. Jaws should be dropping; instead, eyes roll.

The main, obvious – glaringly obvious – problem is that Cirque somehow spent $25-million on this musical and forgot to find a writer. Nobody is explicitly credited as such in the program. Philippe Decouflé, the French choreographer behind Cirque's ill-fated (but brilliant) Los Angeles show Iris, is credited as director and conceiver, while West Hyler appears in the program as "associate creative director, scene director & story." Based on what's on stage, the creatives seem to have relied mainly on the tag team of Google Translate and Rhyming Dictionary for the script.

Winnipeg's Jeremy Kushnier (Stratford Festival's Tommy; the Toronto production of Jersey Boys) stars as a tyrannical film director named A.J. Golden – and the show begins at a ceremony where he is receiving an award for director of the year. (The ironies abound.)

"C'mon, I'm just a storyteller," he says accepting a statuette after an extended song and acrobatics sequence. Then, ominously: "Of course, when I started telling stories, I had no idea what I was doing …"

Paramour is an extended flashback to that time, when he met a star – "but I got too close. And I got burned." That would be a lounge singer named Indigo (Ruby Lewis), who works with a pianist and composer named Joey Green (Ryan Vona). She enters and describes herself thusly: "Please allow me, friends, to introduce myself. I'm your girl next door from Indiana. With my dreams still on a shelf. Haven't seen too much of anything. And so far I'm living on a shoestring."

She sounds like an alien trying, poorly, to infiltrate the human world. But alas, the story is nowhere near that ambitious. In short: A.J. Golden hires Indigo and Joey to work for him. The singer and the musician fall in love. A.J. gets jealous and forbids them to be together – then announces he will have Indigo for himself. "I own you!" he says.

The slight plot is padded to two hours. The second act opens with a nightmare sequence – indicated by having Kushnier's Golden sit in a chair stage right and vogue in slow motion. Meanwhile, Joey gets chased around the stage by what we later learn are zombies, but look like overgrown leprechauns or a gaggle of Green Goblins. Perhaps they are ghosts from the last big-budget show to flop here, in the Lyric Theater, after opening hubristically without an out-of-town tryout? (That'd be Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.)

Although it's one of the most expensive shows on Broadway, Paramour will still manage to seem cheap to Cirque devotees. There's an extended chase/trampoline sequence on the rooftops of New York that Decouflé has recycled from Iris. And it's not the only sequence from a previous non-narrative Cirque show shoehorned in here.

The acrobatics are designed by Shana Carroll, whose Montreal-based circus company Les 7 Doigts de la Main has had great success in theatres rather than tents with its shows (and the excellent recent Broadway revival of Pippin, in which circus artistry elevated a middling musical).

You can't blame her for the mess, I guess. Or the actors, who have to deliver awkward dialogue and emotional U-turns. "Not sure if it's intentional / but they make me two-dimensional," the leading lady sings at one point in another context – but two dimensions is stretching it.

I thought Cirque du Soleil was getting back on track after its overenthusiastic attempt at expansion a few years back. I figured it would have learned, in particular, from Banana Shpeel, a vaudevillian revue that premiered near Broadway in 2010 and flopped. I certainly didn't expect Paramour to be worse.

Two years ago, Cirque announced a dedicated theatrical division aimed at Broadway and the theatrical touring market. President Scott Zieger told me at the time, "We intend to bring in first-class, world-class book writers, composers and lyricists."

They didn't. Instead, for Paramour, they've turned to old pals like Decouflé and the composers Bob and Bill (Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard) who wrote the act-underscoring music for touring shows shows such as Totem, Amaluna and Kurios. They hired Andreas Carlsson, a Swede known for Backstreet Boys' I Want It That Way and N'Sync's Bye Bye Bye, as the lyricist instead of someone with dramatic experience.

Cirque du Soleil – Jean-François Bouchard is the "creative guide" on this particular project – have only themselves to blame for a story that doesn't even make sense to the characters in it.

Near the end, one secondary character asks another. "Why won't A.J. just let Joey and Indigo be together?"

"Because men are incapable of growth, change or progress," is the answer. That, surprisingly, is turning out to actually be Cirque du Soleil's problem.

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