Inspired by the film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron
This new Broadway musical, American in Paris , has absolutely spectacular dancing and choreography, magnificent scenes and scene changes, and wonderful Gershwin songs. The story, well, it’s a little weak but never mind. American in Paris will fill you with joie de vivre.
And if you know the movie — though not always in the same ways this is every bit as good!
The show starts on a vibrant note: the liberation of Paris – August 25, 1944, World War II is ended and the GI’s are going home. But one GI, Jerry Mulligan, caught up in the wild euphoria and equivocal events of the game-changing moment, decides to stay on. He tears up his government-issued ticket to return to the States and enters into a fall-in-love with the city and fall-in-love with the girl adventure.
The girl, Lise, is gamine – tiny, a bit hungry looking, with big eyes and bobbed boyish hair curling around her cheeks — Leslie Caron played the part in the movie. And Jerry’s not the only one to love her – so does the wry seen-it-all club pianist, Adam who’s also an American in Paris, and Henri, the rich and mysterious scion of an aristocratic French family, Lise’s unspoken fiancé who has some special hold on her.
Who will get the girl? Adam’s out of the running, she falls for Jerry, but it’s intimated that she’s somehow beholden to Henri. This is the heart of the story that unfolds with wonderful Gershwin songs, imaginative and virtuoso dance, all taking place against a gloriously designed and ever-changing backdrop of Paris with its eternally appealing sites.
Woody Allen must have been thinking of this aspect of the movie when he made Midnight in Paris. Only this isn’t movie-Paris, photographed: it’s Paris created through the artistic wizardry of the designers and, believe it or not, it’s just as good.
There’s also an astounding quick trip to Radio City Music Hall — complete with the Rockettes.
The show is an absolute feast of great dancing. Jerry is played by Robert Fairchild, a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet. Simply said, he’s great. His acting also is intense and passionate, and although he’s a finer dancer than singer he puts across songs like “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “Fidgety Feet” effectively. In the extended ballet that ends the show, he’s breathtaking. In and of itself, this famous sequence is reason enough to see the show – and there’s much more!
Leanne Cope, who plays Lise, is an exciting dance partner for Fairchild, free and lithe. She’s less of a singer, and as an actress, her expressions are obvious and repetitive — she “does gamine” but she isn’t the character.
Brandon Uranowitz plays the self-deprecating Adam pro forma, though the audience appreciated the intensity he brought to singing “But Not For Me.” As Henri, Max von Essen’s rendition of “Stairway to Heaven” is disappointing … for that, see Georges Guetary in the film. In general, the producers needed singer-dancers but got better dancers than singers.
But among the singers, Jill Paice is a notable exception, a true song stylist, who delivers songs like “Shall We Dance,” and “But Not For Me” the way we need to hear them. As Milo, a rich, predatory American woman who wants Jerry for herself, she goes beyond cliché to suggest Milo’s loneliness and vulnerability – but with high style.
Whether broad Parisian backdrops or intimate indoor scenes, the sets are eye-filling. Particularly spectacular and evocative is Jerry and Lise’s favorite rendezvous spot, the Seine river quay, complete with moving water. People around me gasped—me, too — at the realization of what the designers had achieved.
The visuals throughout are sharp, clever, and stunning – and never obvious. Art is in the details, the cubist portrait of Milo, who runs an art gallery, “looks like” Jill Paice, but not overtly – in its sly way, it captures the essence of the character. The costumes are enchanting — both witty and of the time.
The choreography is varied, original, unexpected — and a triumph for Christopher Wheeldon. It’s an ample show with lots of dancers – all superb at ballet, jazz, and through all the original steps, leaps and turns Wheeldon’s invented for them. The design, by Bob Crowley, is gorgeous.
This is the Paris we all want to see, captured at a high moment. Is that Paris still there? Well, I dunno … nobody whirled me dancing in the streets when I was there recently but … See American in Paris – you’ll leave on a high note!
An American in Paris plays at the Palace Theater on Broadway in NYC. For more information on the show and tickets, click on live link of title.*
*Noted on May 5, 2016 — While American in Paris is no longer playing in NYC, the producers have announced the show is coming to the Dominion Theatre in London. For more information and and tickets for the London production, click here: