BWW Review: Arizona Broadway Theatre Presents AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
To fully appreciate Arizona Broadway Theatre's scintillating and sensual production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, understanding the context of its creation is essential. The musical is the compilation of inspired outbursts of creative brilliance, starting with George and Ira Gershwin's prolific compositions and culminating in Christopher Wheeldon's choreographic vision.
The Paris of 1928 that inspired George Gershwin to compose a symphonic tone poem, entitled An American in Paris, was a very different place from the post-World War II city in which the 1951 Oscar-winning film and 2015 musical by the same name were set.
Gershwin was captivated by the sounds and gaiety of the pre-War city of lights and love ~ and so he captured those elements in what has also been described as a rhapsodic ballet. His purpose, he was quoted to say, was "to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere."
It was post-War Paris, a city ravaged by and recovering from the Nazi occupation, that provided the setting for the 1951 Oscar Award-winning musical, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Directed by Vincente Minnelli and choreographed by Gene Kelly, Alan Jay Lerner 's story focuses on three men, each of whom has become infatuated with a demure ballet dancer.
The romantic theme was further developed in the 2015 Tony Award-winning stage adaptation by Craig Lucas, with the extraordinary advantage of choreography by Wheeldon, the renowned artistic associate of the Royal Ballet.
In both forms, the story is elevated by the interweaving of interpretive dance with the Gershwins' classic songs of the 20's-30's (I Got Rhythm, The Man I Love, 'S Wonderful, Shall We Dance) ~ and the irrepressible feel of all that is Parisian.
Director Kurtis Overby has assembled all the pieces into a charming and engaging interpretation that is, to be clear, en pointe! The result is a jaunty, rhapsodic, and sentimental journey across avenues, cafes, and a dance studio where eros (romantic love) and pragma (practical love) intersect.
Andrew Ruggieri plays the role of Jerry Mulligan, an Army officer, who decides to remain in Paris, to pursue not only his love of art but also his interest in a girl, Lise Dassin (Rebecca Shulla), who has caught his eye and heart. His friend, Adam Hochberg (Michael O'Brien), an injured veteran and pianist, offers to help Jerry get settled and, in due course, introduces him to Henri Baurel (Michael Brennan), a man of wealth with a yen to be a nightclub star despite the interests of his snobbish parents (Carolyn McPhee and Christopher Cody Cooley). The three, unbeknownst to one another, share the same love interest. The fly in the ointment is the special relationship that already exists between Henri and Lise ~ a fidelity borne out of a sense of obligation to repay acts of wartime kindness.
In the meanwhile, both Lise, an aspiring ballet dancer, and Jerry have caught the attention of Milo Davenport (Beatrice Crosbie), a wealthy American of influence, who promotes them as essential parts of a concert season that she aims to endow.
Game on, in a story line that has its share of laughs and tensions and that asks which form of love will win the day.
Ruggieri is a double-barreled talent. He has a great voice and, when joined by O'Brien and Brennan in their renditions of I Got Rhythm and 'S Wonderful, the three knock it out of the Champs D'Elysee. As a dancer, he brings grace and style to his movements, and, when paired with Rebecca Shulla, who, in her own right, is exquisite in form and manner, the two flow together beautifully.
The full artistry of the singers and dancers is enhanced by Aaron Sheckler's imaginative and marvelous set designs. There are the massive arched legs and open-lattice structure of the Eiffel Tower that arch over romantic interludes; moving panels that frame a ballet studio; the intimate setting of a streetside café.
Joshua Condon and his orchestra give full breath and range to Gershwin's rhapsodies.
All in all, Mr. Overby has delivered a complete and fulfilling production of a genuinely American classic.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS continues through March 1st at its home location in Peoria and then transfers to the Herberger Theater Center in Downtown Phoenix from March 8th through the 24th.
Photo credit to Scott Samplin
Arizona Broadway Theatre ~ 7701 W Paradise Lane, Peoria ~ www.azbroadway.org ~ Box Office: 623-776-8400
Herberger Theater Center ~ https://www.herbergertheater.org~ 222 E Monroe St, Phoenix