NEW YORK >> The first signal you get that "Paramour" is no ordinary Broadway show is the size of the playbill. It's a monster, easily dwarfing the regular booklets you get handed at every other theater.
That makes sense. "Paramour" wants to be different, outsized and brash. It's the first Cirque du Soleil show created specifically for Broadway, harnessing its muscular gravity-avoiding acrobats to musical theater.
The result, which opened Wednesday at the Lyric Theatre, is sometimes overstuffed and awkward but always finds its footing when it highlights its soaring, rubber-bodied stars.
"Paramour," which includes classic Cirque touches like aerial acts, board jumping and acrobats on teeterboards, has chosen — somewhat puzzlingly for Cirque's maiden voyage to Broadway — to celebrate classic Hollywood.
But unlike other Cirque shows, this one does a really fine job of integrating the acrobats into the narrative. Here, pole acrobats show off their stuff on city lamp posts, tumblers explode during a bar brawl and trampoline specialists flip high over rooftops. It's thrilling stuff.
The story is a love triangle that pits a famous movie director (Jeremy Kushnier, a bully of a man who veers into King Lear), a ravishing young actress (a ravishing Ruby Lewis) and a young composer (a great Ryan Vona). It's got a cliche-ridden, lumbering plot and dialogue that veers from leaden German operatic to kiddie jokes. It ends with a weird thud, too.
A lot of "Paramour" looks like too many cooks were tossing in ingredients. There are ambitious and dazzling projections, a goofy waiter on roller skates, a bit in which everyone recreates old movie posters, a soundscape that includes insect sounds or maybe hungry vampires, performers rushing through the aisles, and a camera crew crouching in the orchestra seats for little payoff.
Director Philippe Decoufle should have taken the advice of his fictional director: "If we are to create art out of the mess, there can be no distractions, does everyone understand me?" It's really when the acrobats illustrate the emotions onstage that "Paramour" ignores gravity.
The songs are by lyricist and co-composer Andreas Carlsson and the composing team Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard, who have also written music for such Cirque shows as "Totem," "Amaluna" and "Kurios." For this show, they've mostly turned in standard bombastic Cirque fare, though credit them for their range, writing a good ol' cowboy tune and a creepy dream sequence.
When the show works, it works. There's a nifty dance break using seven rooms that mimic a moving film strip, and the song "Love Triangle" has the three leading actors sing while a trio of acrobats illustrate their internal love-sick struggles on a trapeze. (The lyrics rhyme "dangle and "love triangle" if any help is needed).
"Paramour" is in the same massive theater as the ill-fated "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark." The shows share a similar desire to use as much of the Lyric as possible, but "Paramour" has the ability to astonish, as when the identical twins Andrew and Kevin Atherton spin over the audience's heads.
"Paramour" might be a bit of a mess but the dare-devil acrobats — flying to the top of the proscenium or snatching a hat while leaping over a standing man — get so close to danger that they make you feel alive.