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Paris by Night

This earnest musical about a gay love affair in 1960s Paris is unrelentingly trite. logo
James Royce Edwards and Joe Wilson, Jr.
in Paris by Night
(© Mark Turek)
Dredge up every conceivable cinematic cliche about "gay Paree," throw in a gay love story, and you have Paris by Night, an unrelentingly trite new musical concocted by Trinity Repertory Company artistic director Curt Columbus, along with Andre Pluess and Amy Warren, who came up with the undistinguished, jazz-derivative score.

The show is ostensibly set in the pre-revolutionary 1960s, and while it's commendable to revisit that time period to flesh out a variation on a story that wouldn't have found a mainstream voice in that era, Columbus would have done better to draw more deeply on primary sources like James Baldwin.

The main problem, however, is that his two-dimensional characterizations, recycled in reductive musical mode, make for a very watery pastiche. Sam (the molasses-voiced Joe Wilson, Jr.) is a tattoo artist recovering from a failed love affair in San Francisco. Into his shop wanders Buck, a naive young soldier who's an aspiring boxer (played by James Royce Edwards, who lends the role an appealing freshness). Buck's tentative overtures toward Sam represent the only genuine, moving moments in the 2 ½-hour proceedings.

Otherwise, it's awfully predictable. There's Janice Duclos as the worldly-wise cafe proprietress, who hands out romantic counsel along with cafe and croissants; Stephen Berenson as the requisite promiscuous flamer, whose apercus are never incisive enough to warrant his cutesy, self-satisfied air; and, most hackneyed of all, Rachael Warren as a chanteuse whose moves, moues, and wardrobe (by William Lane) are all carry-overs from the 1940s. Warren, a strong singer, achieves some power notes in the show's big dance number, "Yankee Rhythm," but it's agonizing to watch her over-emote through a rote role.

On the plus side, Mauro Hantman is forceful as the necessary bigot, Frank, a soldier who is revealed to be a user. As his milder-mannered, more tolerant sidekick, Stephen Thorne brings a sweet vulnerability to his role -- and he also gets to deliver the one funny line in the show, when he asks the minimalist orchestra (piano, drums, double bass) for an "E flat sus" in order to deliver his declaration of love. It's the first and last meta grace note in this tedious if earnest slog.

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