It’s a Thursday morning at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre, a month before the first preview of Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming Broadway production, Paramour, and the stage is full of people doing casually miraculous things. To one side, a guy in jeans scampers gracefully up a vertical pole. Men and women are tossed around like footballs. In the middle of the stage, shirtless men in athletic shorts jump up and down on a teeterboard, the circus version of a playground seesaw, that’s launching each of them into the air in turn, high enough to perform elaborate flips and twists. When they land, their weight smacks the teeterboard down against the ground, in a slow and regular rhythm: ka-thump, ka-thump, like a heartbeat.
These performers may be the core of Paramour, but they are also part of a much larger jigsaw puzzle that is carefully being assembled. For unlike the spectacles that Cirque du Soleil offers in its trademark yellow-and-blue tents, which are collections of specialty acts loosely united by fantastical costumes and themes, Paramour weaves its circus elements into a straight-up Broadway musical with an original score and a plot about a love triangle in golden-age Hollywood. “There are teeterboard and straps and trapeze and Russian bar and trampoline acts—all the things that you would expect at a Cirque show,” explains Scene Director West Hyler. “But they take place inside a very real story about a filmmaker, his lead actress and the composer who’s scoring the film.”
More pieces of the puzzle come into place in the afternoon, when Paramour’s entire cast of 38—not just the acrobats but also musical-theater actors, singers and dancers—performs its first stumble-through. The band is in the audience and meeting the rest of the company for the first time; 20 makeshift tables have been set up over the auditorium’s red velvet seats and are crowded with computers and mixing boards to meet the show’s complicated technical demands. If Cirque can pull this off, it will be an unprecedented merger of circus spectacle and musical-theater narrative. “I’ve always believed in having a story that you are as much interested in as the acrobacy—that if those two worlds could combine, something really magical could be created,” says Hyler. What follows are some glimpses of how that magic happens.