After Broadway-Bound American In Paris, Théâtre du Châtelet Flirts With Sondheim's Passion

By Mervyn Rothstein
22 Oct 2013

In February 2012 in New York City, "It was cold outside. The temperature must have been -20 degrees Celsius. I remember losing my voice the day after, having spoken too long on the phone in the street. I met Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan. They told me that like me they had been working a year and a half, two years on the project. We had a long, long discussion about what would make us do it together, what would stop us — we have two different cultures — and basically I said the only way we could do it together would be if we agreed on the artistic team. I said we have to find the right director-choreographer, because the structure of the piece is that the story is being told with dance."

They agreed, and after a couple of months, Choplin said, "they said they wanted to work with Christopher Wheeldon. I said he was exactly the one I had in mind," in part because Wheeldon had done full-length ballets and excelled at storytelling and developing characters in dance.

Wheeldon, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, created a ballet for City Ballet in 2005 set to George Gershwin's orchestral tone poem "An American in Paris." He also choreographed a full-length Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 2011 for London's Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. His Cinderella, with a new book by Lucas, is being performed by the San Francisco Ballet this week at Lincoln Center.

Wheeldon's sole Broadway experience was choreographing the 2002 musical Sweet Smell of Success. He is to create a ballet sequence for the musical that is different from the movie's famed version.

The producers have declined to discuss the cost of the production, but Choplin said that his theatre's "financial responsibility is limited to the Châtelet run, and to provide the physical production for the Châtelet run. Then the production is going to be taken by Stuart and Van to Broadway." Châtelet, he said, "is not assuming any financial risk in taking the production to Broadway."

"It's our American dream," Choplin says, "to get such a production, and such big exposure in New York."