BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at Chapman Music Hall - Tulsa Performing Arts Center
Eiffel in love.
A quarter of the way through its second act, "An American in Paris" transforms from a golden-age dancebox musical into full-out modern musical theatre. The quintet of lovers at the heart of its story weave their raw, overlapping passions through three songs written by George and Ira Gershwin. And they do it all while barely moving. It's a welcome moment of stillness in an otherwise kinetic show.
The story goes like this: Jerry is an American WWII soldier and talented visual artist who stays behind in Paris. He meets pianist, Jew, and fellow soldier Adam and Adam's friend, Henri, a well-off Frenchmen with overbearing parents and dreams of being a performer. After some plot points and a few coincidences, each man finds himself in love with Lise, a talented ballerina torn between love and duty. And when Adam and Jerry are commissioned by a patron to write a new ballet with Lise as its star, "shoulds" and "wants" start to tangle and knot until true, bittersweet love and pure, frenetic art are all that remain.
And what beautifully crafted art it is. Director Christopher Wheeldon won a Tony Award® for his choreography, which tells stories of love, struggle, tumult, and even joy against the backdrop of post-war Paris. Group numbers display each ensemble member's technical prowess and range across ballet, modern, and tap. "I've Got Beginner's Luck", "Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture", and "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" are standouts.
Bob Crowley's sets and costumes further render the tension of a city whose lights are shining through cracks of rubble. He dresses his Parisians for the hustle and bustle of lives back to normal as well as for the parties and pizzazz of victorious celebration. His minimalist sets (along with 59 Productions's stunning, right-out-of-a-sketchbook projection designs) artfully invoke the city's landmarks and architecture.
But how does it all sound? C'est magnifique! The aforementioned quintet are all triple threats in their own right. McGee Maddox as Jerry is wide-eyed and genuine, his feet and voice barely keeping up with his heart. Lise, played by Allison Walsh, speaks and sings with an accent as precise and as lovely as her dancing. Matthew Scott's acting shines through Adam, his unrequited love, and creative frustrations. He smartly infuses his solo "But Not For Me" with understated defeat. And Kirsten Scott is fantastic as Milo Davenport, the ballet's benefactor. She saves the character from almost certain "blonde plot device" disaster, instead feeling plucked out of the '40s with some Hepburn (Katharine and Audrey) mixed in for good measure.
Ben Michael might have the hardest job in the show (no offense to what is without question one of the hardest working ensembles working today). His character guards two secrets throughout the show, with the (arguably larger) one left unresolved by play's end. Nevertheless, he juggles Henri's competing desires effectively and sells his showstopping "Stairway to Paradise" with abandon and delight.
Worth mentioning last but certainly not least are Bill Elliot's award-winning orchestrations, which rejigger the show's Gershwin catalog into a cohesive score of thrilling jazz harmonies, heartfelt character moments, and solid dance accompaniment. (Only "Fidgety Feet", with its nifty chair-ography, feels, er, out of step with the rest of the show.)
One could quibble with "Paris's" convenient, papier-mâché plot or Craig Lucas's sparse, bland book. But that's like complaining about a Bugatti's gas mileage. The show, like the car, has real muscle when it's up and moving. It can even evoke emotion by looking sleek and standing still.