BWW REVIEW: National Tour of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Launches in Boston
Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin; book by Craig Lucas, inspired by the motion picture; directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon; musical score adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher; set and costume design by Bob Crowley; lighting design, Natasha Katz; sound design, Jon Weston; projection design, 59 Productions
Jerry Mulligan, Garen Scribner; Lise Dassin, Sara Esty; Adam Hochberg, Etai Benson; Henri Baurel, Nick Spangler; Milo Davenport, Emily Ferranti; Madame Baurel, Gayton Scott; Monsieur Baurel, Store Manager, Don Noble; Returning Soldier, Lise's Ballet Partner, Barton Cowperthwaite; Returning Soldier's Wife, Caitlin Meighan; Mr. Z, Kyle Vaughn; Olga, Laurie Wells; Ensemble, Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Alexa De Barr, Leigh-Ann Esty, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Lucas Segovia, Ryan Steele, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong, Blake Zelesnikar
Performances and Tickets:
Now through November 6, Citi Performing Arts Center (to be renamed Boch Center Nov. 1), Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston; tickets start at $35 and are available through Ticketmaster, at the Citi Center box office, online at www.citicenter.org or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787). For more information, visit www.AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com.
Joie de vivre is in short supply in AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, the acclaimed Broadway musical now launching its first national tour in Boston through November 6. Inspired by the beloved 1951 MGM movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, this Broadway iteration looks and feels monochromatic compared to its opulent Technicolor™ predecessor, but that is mostly by design. This adaptation brings the story's post World War II setting front and center, revealing a city and its inhabitants still shell shocked as they try to rebuild in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation.
Against backdrops filled with ghostly black and white projections of Paris' most notable landmarks, American ex-patriots Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) and Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson) attempt to heal their mental and physical wounds of war through art and music. Jerry paints, Adam composes, and soon they are commissioned by the wealthy American heiress Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti) to design and create a new ballet that will star a young ingénue, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty). Both men instantly fall in love with the waif-like Lise not knowing that she is soon to be engaged to their amiable French companion, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler). Meanwhile Milo sets her cap for Jerry, offering him an exclusive gallery exhibition in exchange for companionship and personal services.
Familiar George and Ira Gershwin standards enrich the various romantic threads of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Who could ask for anything more when a score includes "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," 'S Wonderful," "Shall We Dance?" "But Not for Me," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me?" The choreography, too, is a dazzling combination of balletic and athletic dance moves that power the romance in ways that Craig Lucas' melancholy book doesn't. Still, the production never truly soars until the story culminates in a celebratory 11th-hour ballet of Gershwin's title symphonic poem that explodes in color and jazz-inflected vibrancy. Until then, the musical feels more like a dirge.
Performances throughout are strong, with marvelous principal dancers Garen Scribner and Sara Esty also acquitting themselves quite well as singers and actors. They bring an aching authenticity to Jerry and Lise's star-crossed romance, and when they dance his swagger melts her reticence completely. Etai Benson strikes a nice balance between self-pitying and self-effacing as the sidekick who opts for hope instead of cynicism, and Nick Spangler is delightfully sympathetic as the closeted song and dance man whose heroic heart hides behind a quivering mass of insecurities.
Emily Ferranti turns what could be an unlikeable rich dilettante into a lonely young woman who understandably seeks friendships any way she can find them. Gayton Scott as Henri's controlling mother Madame Baurel finds the fear that still lurks in the dark corners of Paris' bombed out heart. As Monsieur Baurel, Ron Noble lands unexpected humor, and the entire ensemble executes precise dance moves with seemingly effortless ease.
Set and projection designs by Bob Crowley and 59 Productions are a bit cumbersome at times, drawing attention away from the action during numerous scene changes. The concept is clever, first revealing a Paris is disrepair, then brightening as Jerry's designs for the ballet take shape on the proscenium and backdrop. But massive columns and odd minimalist set pieces fight against the intimacy of the relationships. They create a chill where warmth should radiate. Settings dominate instead of support.
Crowley's costume designs are a better match for 1945 Paris. There's a hint of Dior in the women's two-piece suits, cloche hats and gloves, while the men's pleated trousers and form-fitting shirts accentuate their muscular builds. Outfits have been carefully designed to maximize freedom of movement for the many dance routines, and the de rigueur top hat, white tie and tails look positively smashing during a particularly fun-filled fantasy sequence.
Though the monotonous pace of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS becomes tiresome after a while, lovers of ballet and Gershwin will find much to enjoy. The cast boasts several members of the original Broadway company. In this their first city of the national tour, their footing is already sure.