OKC Broadway Brings AN AMERICAN IN PARIS to the Civic Center Music Hall
In recent years, Broadway musicals have come from seemingly every kind of source material, from books to movies to comics. Sometimes, the results are extraordinary and exceptional, while other times, they are just ordinary. Or, in some cases, like An American in Paris, it turn out to be a less-than-ordinary show that fails on many levels.
The aforementioned show is currently running at the Civic Center Music Hall, the final show of what has been an uneven season of productions for OKC Broadway. Regardless of the relative quality of individual shows, it's important to applaud OKC Broadway and the work they are doing in bringing Broadway touring productions such as this one to the city.
As for An American in Paris, it's based on a hit 1951 film that stared Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, featured fabulous Gershwin music and garnered praise and a number of awards. Seeing the musical made this reviewer put the movie at the top of the Netflix queue, dying to find out what the movie is like. It can't possibly be as bad as the stage version. Part of the reason for the bad-ness is how dusty and dated the show feels. It has not stood the test of time. Everything about the plot feels tired and overused, a mishmash of cliches and plot points you've seen a million times, sprinkled heavily with soulless melodrama and slowed down by interminable dance sequences.
Taking place in Paris immediately after the end of World War II, the story at the center of the plot revolves around our titular American, Jerry Mulligan, who is hanging around the city of lights for a while after deciding to stay in Paris and be an artist rather than returning home. Almost immediately, he meets a mysterious woman named Lise, who he keeps mysteriously running into and falls in love with. He also makes some good friends, a composer/piano player named Adam and an aspiring singer named Henri. As he pursues Lise, a ballet dancer, he, Adam and Henri become involved in the creation of a new ballet production which will feature Lise as its star. Oh, and all three are in love with her, of course.
The love quadrangle is just one of the plot points that feels really tired and dull. Craig Lucas' book never really sinks its teeth into any exciting or engaging themes or ideas. There are brief glancing blows to messages about what people do, or do not do, during wartime, or how people manage to survive in both wartime and peacetime, but those messages come and go with little development or exploration. The same shallowness is true of almost every character as well. We never really get a feel or sense of the true depth of anybody, their true individual self. Most egregious is how this relates to the two lead characters.
Jerry Mulligan has to be one of the most unlikable male lead characters in history. He's selfish, pushy, dull and has little redeeming qualities. After meeting Lise, he doesn't woo or court her or even do anything particularly romantic, he just badgers and pesters her, basically wearing her down until she just surrenders. While he's doing that to her, he uses the other female lead character, being reckless with her as well. Is the audience really supposed to root for this guy? As for Lise, it's a female character that is solely defined by how men define and identify her. The primary way we ever hear or learn anything about her is when the men sit around and talk about her. And there's always one nearby when she says something, to tell her that she's wrong or making a mistake.
One can only guess that the movie had some of these issues in its day but it overcame any such problems. This stage adaptation does not have nearly enough charm, fun, entertainment value or energy to overwhelm all the deficiencies. Director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon creates a production here that is all over the map in pace, at times coming to a screeching halt when it should be driving forward. Especially problematic are all of the very, very long dance sequences. This is not helped by the fact that they are heavy on the ballet, a type of dance that requires a certain amount of energy and charisma to make it grab and hold the audience. The fact that the dance numbers feel so dull and lifeless here is not because there is so much ballet. It's because there is so much ballet that is being performed in a dull and lifeless manner.
Having said that, the two lead performers in this production are both very skilled dancers, so there's that at least. McGee Maddox is especially deft at getting his toes tapping, some of his dance sequences are among the show's highlights. His singing is also lovely and he's clearly a triple-threat, as far as overall talent goes. There just isn't anything he can do to make the character as written sympathetic or likable. As Lise, Allison Walsh also can't do much to get of the quagmire of the way the character is written, but she is able to execute some gorgeous dance moves and demonstrate her obvious talents in that area.
As with many plays and musicals, the supporting characters are far more interesting and entertaining than the two leads. Matthew Scott as Adam and Ben Michael as Henri are absolutely the stars of this show and there is, in my mind, no argument or debate. They are both highly charismatic actors who bring a ton of life and energy to their roles. Their characters come the closest to being fully fleshed out individual and believable human beings. When they share a dramatic scene together, it's the only time the stage really crackles and comes alive with energy and electricity. They also have some great singing talent, with their performances in "But Not for Me" (Adam) and "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" (Henri) as two of the show's musical highlights.
There is the requisite giant ensemble as well, playing a variety of interchangeable characters. The standout is Kirsten Scott as Milo, a character that wants to be complex as she deals with her complicated relationships with Jerry and Henri. While the writing makes it more muddled and a mess than it is complex, Scott Still does a nice job, always bringing charisma, commitment and stage presence to spare. Teri Hansen and Scott Willis also do some very nice work as Henri's mother and father, respectively. They provide some of the show's best moments of comic relief.
The very best work is done by this touring production's technical team, which is not necessarily a good thing. An absolute master-class in theatrical magic, this show is without doubt a glorious sight to behold. Set pieces, video projections and backdrops are all used brilliantly as we dance back and forth through the various locations in Paris, brought to life in ways that sometimes upstages the live action happening on stage.
More of these kinds of top-notch quality production values can be expected in OKC Broadway's next season, which has been announced and will be filled with shows that are very likely much better than An American in Paris.
An American in Paris runs through June 10th at the Civic Center Music Hall in Downtown Oklahoma City. Tickets are available by visiting OKCBroadway.com, calling (405) 297-2264 Mon-Fri 10am-5pm, or visiting the Civic Center Box Office. Groups of ten (10) or more may be placed by calling (405) 297-1586.