BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at Drury Lane Theatre
"How can you feel liberated when your city's been crushed?" In the post-WWII setting of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, this is the dilemma faced by the people who call the City of Light home--through birth, choice, or the displacement of war. For the young protagonists, healing comes through art, friendship, and love.
Based on the 1951 Academy Award-winning film starring Gene Kelly, the 2015 Broadway stage adaptation offers virtuosic dance numbers set to the music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. In its regional premiere at Drury Lane Theatre, director and choreographer Lynne Kurdziel-Formato draws highly polished performances from a triple-threat cast, while the designers create a stunning visual palette that reinforces the show's celebration of beauty and art.
Josh Drake stars as Jerry Mulligan, an American GI and talented painter who decides to stay in Paris and work on his art after the war. He soon meets a set of like-minded young people: Adam Hochberg (Skyler Adams), an endearingly awkward composer and fellow veteran of the U.S. army; Henri Baurel (Will Skrip), a wealthy Frenchman who dreams of being a "song-and-dance man"; Lise Dassan (Leigh-Ann Esty), a French ballerina with a mysterious past; and Milo Davenport (Erica Evans), an enthusiastic American patron of the arts. In their own ways, each are picking up the pieces of their lives and re-establishing their artistic pursuits after the trauma of war.
The casting of the principal actors plays to each of their strengths. Josh Drake and Leigh-Ann Esty, while solid singers and actors, shine the most in the extensive dancing required of their roles. Esty's roots as a professional dancer are evident throughout, and Drake is the perfect partner for her, with fluidity and grace reminiscent of Gene Kelly's iconic style. The choreography showcases the score's elements of ballet, jazz, and swing, culminating in the extended Act II ballet sequence set to George Gershwin's 1928 orchestral composition, An American in Paris (which preceded and inspired the film).
Skyler Adams shows off his piano skills in the role of the Adam, the composer, and gives an emotionally vulnerable performance as his character struggles through the pain of unrequited love. Erica Evans and Will Skrip are equally compelling as Milo and Henri, who both have material wealth but find that their hearts' desires cannot be purchased with money. While the film is revered primarily for its music and dancing, Craig Lucas's book lends the stage adaptation a layered, often-poignant plot as the lives of these five young people intersect.
The production designers have crafted a dreamlike vision of Paris, which perfectly complements this tale of a city that has long been a cultural mecca for aspiring artists. Kevin Depinet frames the proscenium arch with posters indicative of the era, including several that prominently proclaim the recent liberation. Kevan Loney's projections, which are accomplished works of art in themselves, serve as much to evoke moods as to mark locations. Some scenes feature colorful abstract backgrounds with bright colors and eye-catching textures, while others lend landmarks such as Notre Dame Cathedral a whimsical, hand-painted effect. Complementing these designs are Karl Green's costumes, which convey the characters' vitality and love of beauty; Lise's many dresses are particularly memorable. Between the elegant designs and the expressive choreography, this production offers a feast for the eyes.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS makes a compelling case for the power of art to bring joy, hope, and healing. And it does so through art itself, blending the best elements of musical theater: thrilling dance, infectious music, beautiful designs, and a moving story... a fine tribute to a city that artists have always called home.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS plays through March 31 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL. Single tickets are $60 - $75 and are available at 630.530.0111 or DruryLaneTheatre.com.
Photo by Brett Beiner
Review by Emily McClanathan