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BWW Review: ATLANTICS ARTS at Comédie Nation

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A week long celebration of Broadway in Paris.

Atlantics Arts is a new musical theater festival by two Americans in Paris, Lauren Van Kempen and Adam Alexander, to promote musical theater through workshops, singalongs, and live performances. The highlights of this first weeklong festival were of course the three editions of Broadway Melody. Created to give French audiences a chance to better get to know the rich legacy of the American songbook, celebrating the background and histories of the main composers such as Berlin and Lerner with expert historians as guides.

BWW Review: ATLANTICS ARTS at Comédie Nation

The festival opened on Monday September 27th with a revival of the Broadway melody edition dedicated to the work of the great genius Leonard Bernstein, with a wide selection of songs from On The Town, Candide, Wonderful Town, and of course Westside Story, with a brief trip through opera in Trouble in Tahiti. Expertly accompanied on the piano by the magic fingers of Charlotte Gauthier, executing the wonderful arrangements of Mathieu Serradell. The 90-minute program showcases the talent of seasoned performer Christine Buffie, Scott Emerson, Maxime de Toledo, and of course Lauren Van Kempen herself, who once again stole the show with her hilarious and spectacular rendition of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide. The gender swapping used for some of the songs, like "I Can Cook Too," enthusiastically performed by Toledo, was a good idea, and "The Wrong Note Rag," with the whole cast in an encore makes us forget that the Westside Story was leaning a little towards Mistcast!

A first edition of Mostly Sondheim as a duet by Alexander and Van Kempen, replacing the originally planned Marry Me a Little, followed another albeit too short evening of some of Sondheim's early work, such as "What More Do I Need" from Saturday Night, and "Can That Boy Foxtrot," cut from Follies, both brilliantly performed with tongue and cheek by Van Kempen. Just like the sadly gone Mostly Sondheim evening at the Duplex in New York, some works of other contemporary composers were included, such as Adolpho from The Drowsy Chaperon, performed with panache by Alexander, and a very romantic duet with Alexander and Van Kempen to "Children" from Stephen Flagherty's Ragtime, aptly concluding the bittersweet evening.

BWW Review: ATLANTICS ARTS at Comédie Nation

The next event on the agenda was Broadway à Paris, bringing together eight amateur, semi-professional, and professional companies dedicated to American musical theater in Paris, beginning with Singing on The Roof, followed by 27 Saville, presenting three excerpts from their forthcoming production of Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at Théâtre Saint-Germain in Paris from November 9th to 13th, The 8-Mic Company, with a wide range of selections from Bright Star to Hamilton, visiting Waitress, Frozen, and Chicago on the way, and a short but highly professional dance segment by Sixtine Vanderschooten's Misty Dance Theatre to "Me and Mr. Jones" by Amy Winehouse. Pinoy Jam Paris followed with a delightful preview of their upcomping SIMPLY MUSICALS: Manilla - London - Paris at the Auguste Théâtre the 9th, 16th, 18th, and 19th of November, opening with "Starting Here, Starting Now" by Maltby and Shire and concluding with the hilarious original song "Comédie Musicale" from Stephane Ly Cuang's Cabaret Jaune Citron. Something Musical came up next, presenting a selection from the too rarely mounted Broadway musical It Shoulda Been You, to be presented in January. Broadway in Paris was represented by Ali Zalzali, accompanied by Nima Santonja, doing"Ma Place au Soleil" ("A Corner of the Sky) from the forthcoming French adaptation of Stephen Schwarts' Pippin by Michael Pereira, something to look forward to since, after all, Pippin is about the life and times of King Charlemagne. The spirited evening concluded with "Le Cœur à l'Horizon", mixing Urine Town, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dear Evan Hansen before the event reached an ultimate climax with the 90-piece cast of performers singing along "Seasons of Love" from Rent!

The last evening of the festival was the very first Broadway melody dedicated to the work of Jerry Herman and the Irving Berlin of the later generation of Broadway's golden age, comparatively unknown in France despite the success of the French version of Hello Dolly with the great, late Annie Cordy in the early 70s. For obvious prejudicial reasons, the French always give the cold shoulder to Broadway musical adaptations based on their cultural patrimony (The Phantom of the Opera, Can Can, Gigi, and even Les Miz, whose French origins many people are unaware of here!): the brilliant adaptation of La Cage aux Folles by the late Alain Marcel was a dismal failure in 1999 at Mogador. Despite a few songs adapted by Charles Aznavour for Annie Cordy, Mame was never done in France, and Dear World was a legendary flop despite its cult score based on La Folle de Chaillot by Jean Giraudoux.

BWW Review: ATLANTICS ARTS at Comédie Nation

The evening aptly began with a lively Jerry Herman overture by the wonderful Gauthier at the piano, followed by a well-harmonized "It's Today" by the four-piece cast starting a Mame selection whose highlight was of course the bitchy duet of "Bosom Buddies," with Van Kempen and Kate Combault, stepping into the shoes of Angela Lansbury and Beatrice Arthur. Of course we need "We Need a Little Christmas" to give us a taste of the approaching festive season, when Van Kempen and her accomplice will probably treat us to another Jingle Bell Concert at Comédie Nation. Selections from Herman's favorite and comparatively best score Mack and Mabel were then performed, followed by Alexander's perfect delivery of "Movies and Movies" and "I Won't Send Roses," and Lauren doing more than justice to the ragtime-flavored "Look What Happened to Mabel" and the angry "Wherever He Ain't." La Cage aux Folles segment, after a perfectly staged "We Are What We Are," belongs to the great Scott Emerson, recently seen in multiple parts in the touring revival of Into the Woods, delivering a very emotional "Songs of the Sand," followed by "Whenever You're on My Arm," dueting with Alexander, clearly the best rendition I've ever seen of this second-rate Herman song. "The Best of Times," with new resonance to its lyrics, was a perfect conclusion, leading onto a selection of the underrated Dear World, whose highlight was a magnificent "Tea Party" counterpoint, impeccably and humorously delivered by Van Kempen, Emerson, and Combault.

Of course, it was most appropriate to end the evening with the most famous, if not best, work of Herman's: Hello Dolly, starting with the animated "Put on Your Sunday Clothes," leading onto Van Kempen's soft versions of "Ribbons Down My Back" and a very well-staged "Elegance Quartet," concluding naturally with the world famous title song, which most of the audience was able to sing along with. Herman's musical scores are so full of gems that a different selection might have been just as good, and outside of The Grand Tour, TV's Miss Santa Clause, and the unproduced but recorded Miss Spectacular, being left aside, the only criticism one could have for that magical evening that it was a tiny bit too short at just an hour, but that leaves us hoping for a Volume 2!

We must be grateful to Lauren Van Kempen and Adam Alexander, as well as to the staff Comédie Nation, the new sanctuary of American musical theater in Paris, for hosting this weeklong Atlantic Theatre Festival.


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