BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at Music Hall at Fair Park - I Couldn't Ask For Anything More!
'S wonderful. 'S marvelous. 'S absolutely freaking flawless! The audience was humming with excitement as the lights grew dim at the Music Hall at Fair Park on Wednesday night for the Dallas debut of "An American in Paris". Inspired by the Academy Award winning 1951 film and wonderfully reimagined for the stage in 2015 by director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, with the book by Craig Lucas and set to the fantastic music of George and Ira Gershwin, it was completely captivating from start to finish.
A nearly blank stage greets us with a lonely piano standing center, a plume of smoke rises from the hot cherry of a cigarette and we meet our narrator, the affable yet melancholy young composer, Adam Hochberg . He sets the scene for us; post World War II Paris, a city breathing a collective sigh of relief. A weary American soldier, Jerry Mulligan, saunters into the frame. Suddenly a crowd appears, and we are swept into a bustling series of vignettes. Lovers reunite, people squabble over the last baguette at the boulangerie, a beautiful young lady gets her purse snatched by thugs. None of this goes unnoticed by Jerry, who also happens to be a talented painter. He is instantly inspired by the vivaciousness of Paris and ceremoniously rips up his return train ticket. This is home now. Fate brings these two American gents together and they become fast friends. Henri Baurel, an aristocrat and aspiring cabaret singer, is a fixture at the same café they frequent and quickly becomes their third Musketeer. Adam invites Jerry to observe the ballet class he accompanies, and it is on that fateful day that Jerry meets the two women who will determine his future. The brash and ebullient Milo Davenport, an American heiress who promptly makes Jerry her pet project and Lise Dassin, a beguiling young ballerina who instantly becomes the object of his affection. I won't give the rest away, but suffice it to say a romantic tangle of epic proportions ensues and after much confusion and heartache, true love conquers all!
I was thoroughly impressed by the entire cast. Jerry (Garen Scribner) is an absolute wonder, his warmth and charm radiate to the back of the balcony and his charisma and technical prowess would surely make Gene Kelly proud! Sarah Esty strikes the perfect balance as Lise, fragile and conflicted yet joyful and fiery. Their chemistry is palpable, especially evident in the climatic pas de deux at the end of the ballet, swooping and soaring across the stage, it is clear she can let go completely and dance with abandon into her partner's loving arms. Etai Benson as Adam had me rolling with laughter with his depressingly slow rendition of "I've got Rhythm" and then conversely brought tears to my eyes with his lament in "But Not for Me". Nick Spangler was terrifically nuanced as Henri Baurel, bringing both perfect comedic timing and soul to the character. He brought down the house with the show stopping "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" number. Emily Ferranti makes a sharp, spunky and wonderfully human Milo and her voice is superb. Gayton Scott garnered plenty of laughs as the pearl clutching and utterly sophisticated mother of Henri, Madame Baurel, and though it was hard for her husband, played by Don Noble to get a word in, when he finally did it was delivered with aplomb. The ensemble and supporting cast are all bursting with talent and were seamless, I found the complete focus and commitment from each performer to be remarkable.
Mr. Wheeldon's choreography and direction is innovative and awe inspiring. Also, worthy of mention is the ingenious and beautiful use of projections throughout the production. Clouds rolling by, the stars twinkling at night, boats dancing on a shimmering river, the smiling face of a jazz singer on a poster juxtaposed with a morose turn of plot events, it all had me completely entranced. The set and costume design by Bob Crowley was brilliant and the intricate choreography used to change scenes and move set pieces made for silky and beautiful transitions unlike anything I've seen before.
To paraphrase Adam in his great epiphany at the end of the show, "Life is already so dark, if you have the talent to make it bright and bring joy you must!" That is what the arts can do for us. I left the show last night feeling like my blood had been replaced with sunshine and hope. Do yourself a favor and take a break from Facebook and Twitter and go sit in the dark theater and let this magic wash over you. It might change your mood; it might change your day and it might even change your life a little. Don't miss the opportunity to see this incredible production!
"An American in Paris" runs from now until February 12th at the Music Hall at Fair Park, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals, www.DallasSummerMusicals.org or 1-800-745-300 for tickets. Or catch it at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth February 14-19, presented by Performing Arts Fort Worth, www.basshall.com or 817-212-4280.