BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Shines as Classic, Bright and Nostalgic Entertainment.
We took our seats at The Bass Concert Hall just in time to catch a pair of young women talking about their desire (or lack thereof) to see a show they'd never heard of before entitled FIDDLE ON THE ROOF (sic). This doesn't bode well for them, I thought, as AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is a musical based on a film based on music that was before my mother's time, much less theirs. Nonetheless, I'm glad we're getting a younger generation to the theatre. One of the ways I became engaged in history in my own youth was in attending and acting in live theatre, natch.
That said, we are close to losing all of those who served in a war in which the story of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS revolves. This production is a heartwarming and literally romantic story about what love can do to conquer the pain of such tragedy. It is also a beautiful homage to a time when telling a good story included lots of romance, optimism, and much of singing and dancing. Just after WWII, soldier and talented painter Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) finds himself in the City of Lights. Having fallen immediately in love with Paris AND a girl he sees on the street within his first hours there, he decides he must stay and make a go of it after the war. He meets Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott, reprising the role he played on Broadway) an aspiring composer (based on George Gershwin, whose brilliant music inspires and holds up the entire production.) and French singer Henri (Ben Michael) who aspires to make it big as an entertainer in America.
When Adam invites Jerry to join him to sketch the dancers at the ballet where he's playing rehearsal piano, it just so happens, as is wont in such musicals, that the girl (Lise, played by Allison Walsh) Jerry fell for on the streets is one of the dancers there to audition. Adam so happens to become enamored of Lise, and Jerry, thrilled at meeting her again, begins a brash pursuit of Lise as well. American philanthropist Milo Davenport (Kirsten Scott) is at the audition, too, and she is charmed by Lise - though not in the same way as Jerry and Adam. She immediately insists that a ballet be commissioned with Lise as the lead dancer, composed by Adam, with set design by Jerry. Meanwhile, Henri finally starts the letter of proposal everyone has been insisting he complete. Who's his paramour? You guessed it. Lise.
The rest of the story unfolds around the trio's desire for Lise with the ballet in Paris as a backdrop. Remember though - this is a Broadway production, based on a film made in 1951. You know who gets the girl? Actually, he gets both of them - our American hero Jerry. I hope I didn't spoil it for you.
All sarcasm in regard to the saccharine quality of the story aside, this production is simply stunning. There's a leap or two in the story, but they're navigated as beautifully as the leaps in the dance are entertaining. Christopher Wheeldon deservedly won a Tony for Best Choreography for this production. His bright, energetic choreography prove to serve the real point of this whole show, which is the music and dance. This shows up in the casting as well, as Mr. Maddox's bio shows he is a dancer first, though his performance does not lag as a singer and actor. This is also true of Allison Walsh, whose credits include work with the Joffrey ballet. The supporting characters here are played by those who get their work done on Broadway. Particularly sterling are Matthew Scott and and Kirsten Scott. Kirsten Scott is especially engaging and the chemistry between she and Mr. Maddox sparkles. I found myself wishing Jerry would go ahead and let Lise marry Henri. This is a sexy show, and if there is a disappointment to be found, it is in a fire I wasn't able to see between Maddox and Walsh. Still, it's no reason to skip the show. This is a version of the best of Broadway, during the era when musicals were revered as the best entertainment in America. It is no small feat to create this kind of excellence.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is full of stunning numbers executed with style and energy, delivering the solid professionalism one should expect from such an ensemble. However, in the opinion of this reviewer, the real stars of this show sat in a pit beneath the stage, magically, genuinely and beautifully bringing Gershwin's music to life. I've never been more thrilled to reach the point in a curtain call in which I could acknowledge the orchestra. The most dazzling thing about this shiny production isn't even visible, but it's at the heart of this show, culminating in Gershwin's stunning classic, Rhapsody in Blue. It's a visual masterpiece in the hands of Wheeldon and set designer Bob Crowley, but this was a performance where the orchestra was wonderfully sublime (and you can tell from the first note.) From the cheers in the pit as we were making our exit, I think the orchestra felt they did a superior job as well. They were right.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
Music and Lyrics George and Ira Gershwin
Book by Craig Lucas
Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
May 31st through June 3rd
Bass Concert Hall
2350 Robert Dedman Dr.
Run time: 1 hour 55 minutes with a 15 minute intermission
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