BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS a Masterpiece of Motion, Music and Art
In most of the national tour musicals that have passed through the Ohio Theatre, dance often seems to be a submissive stepchild to storyline and song. However, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: A NEW MUSICAL, a reimagining of the music of George and Ira Gershwin, finds the perfect marriage between music and movement.
Christopher Wheeldon's choreography and the fluid rearranging of the stage in the two-act, two-and-a-half-hour musical recaptures of the hustle and bustle feeling of post-World War II Paris. The musical, who won Tony Awards for best choreography, best scenic design, lighting and orchestration in 2015, opened on March 6 and runs through March 11 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus).
McGee Maddox (who plays Jerry Mulligan) and Allison Walsh (who plays Lise Dassian) head up a talented corps of dancers that make up the show. Maddox served as the principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada prior to joining the show while Walsh performed with the Joffrey Ballet.
Although it is technically not listed as a dancer, the set by Bob Crowley and aided by 59 Productions, who did the projection design, add to the majesty of the performance.
At first Crowley looked like he was going for a minimalistic approach to the show. As Adam Hochberg (played by Matthew Scott) arrives on stage with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other, the stage was barren except for a piano in the foreground and a well-faded portrait of the Arc of Triumph in the background. However, as soon as the orchestra launches into the opening notes of Concerto in F, the stage explodes into a series of images and scenery pieces. Empty spaces soon become side streets and shop fronts of Paris.
While Hochberg talks about the economic and social struggles in the newly liberated France, the show smartly uses sparse, but strong symbolism to represent it. In the opening segment of the first act:
- Angry Parisians rip down a swastika flag and replace it with the French tricolors;
- a former Nazi collaborator is beaten to death by an angry mob;
- a sense of desperation sets in as people wait in line for bread.
However, this desperate backdrop is quickly forgotten as the play traces the script of the 1951 Academy Award winning film of the same name. Dassin emerges from the hardscrabble streets and takes center stage as a shop girl turned ballet dancer.
Dassin quickly finds herself in the middle of a love parallelogram among three suitors. She is pursued by Henri Baurel (Ben Michael), an heir to a textile industry fortune who longs to be a nightclub performer despite his minimal talent; Hochberg, a struggling composer and friend of Baurel and Mulligan, an American who decides that being a starving artist in Paris is better than being unemployed in the United States.
Each of these men offer a different type of partner for Dassin. Baurel offers security, both emotional and financial. Hochberg provides a strong companionship. Mulligan, the centerpiece of the romance, embodies passionate adventure.
While it doesn't offer a deep message or a compelling storyline, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS offers a visually stimulating evening of dance and stage design as well as the music of George and Ira Gershwin. Truly, who could ask for anything more?
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS will be performed 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus). Call (614) 469-0939 for tickets.