Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS At The Phoenix Theatre Company

The production runs until March 12.

By: Mar. 03, 2023
Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS At The Phoenix Theatre Company
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An American in Paris Review

After the death of George Gershwin in 1937, Arthur Freed, an executive at MGM, decided that Gershwin's orchestral suite with a handful of other songs in his catalog would be the perfect symbiosis of artistic expression and nostalgic Americana to produce the 1951 movie, An American in Paris. While the themes were dated and the plot thin, as even described by the United States Library of Congress in the National film registry, an adaptation was nevertheless created in 2014, and the stage musical was born. An American in Paris is one of those musicals that centers itself on a good time, sensory experience. The Phoenix Theatre Company (TPTC) brings to life that story in The City of Light to awaken the senses and remember that precious feeling of love that maybe has been forgotten.

The story centers around Jerry Mulligan, a GI fresh out of WWII; looking for a fresh start, he decides to stay in Paris to pursue an art career. He meets Milo Davenport, a rich patron whom we found out soon after develops quite a thing for the handsome GI, as well as Lise Dassin, an aspiring ballerina who works as a perfume clerk. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to a bevy of colorful characters which turn out to be foundational to the plot and really where the story holds the audience's interest.

Many fans of the movie will note some similarities in both productions, but in the stage adaptation, Adam acts as narrator to move the scenes along, offering a bit of a third-person perspective rather than just centering on Mulligan as the movie did. In this way, the stage adaptation allows more depth to the supporting players, rather than delving into the main love story, which while problematic, does help make it more palatable overall. Given that the adaptation was written within the last 10 years, the book should have been able to take the source material and expand it beyond the exposition and plot's simpleness, especially for the three hours that it takes to do it. But that wasn't the case here. We know or feel little else about Jerry and Lise that their love affair is nothing more than innocent naïveté. Nevertheless, breaking down this musical into its separate parts does give any audience member moments that they can easily enjoy.

TPTC again outdoes itself in recreating the world of Paris in each scene. There has never been a scenic design done by Douglas Clarke that disappoints. Every detail has been accounted for, from the dreamy Parisian skies down to the theatre floors. Every costume coordinated (by Cece Sickler) and coiffed hairdo (Kelly Yurok) brings out a color pallet of delight that represents the cast of the show, especially during the dance numbers, as moving works of art. DJ Gray and Casey Lamont have left no twirl unturned nor time step unstopped in these dazzling and flawless dance numbers. While some of the songs are ridiculous in material, as dance numbers they are jaw-dropping. The real story, the life of Paris - its art scene, the energy of possibilities after the war, and rebirth - is told in these dance numbers, and are the highlight. These dancers' techniques are impeccable. It is the best dance, sans any dedicated dance company, that one can see in a production.

As the auspicious couple, Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, Michael Starr and Brianna Abruzzo, respectively, give the audience stunning dance sequences but their chemistry throughout the show seems only evident in the last dance "dream" sequence of the show. Whether that was intentional by the director, Larry Raben, or not is unclear. Regardless, Starr managed to imbue some of the playfulness required of this role to win the audience over, while other times coming off as a lovesick puppy. Abruzzo appropriately played the stoic, but in her scenes, it was difficult to understand her intention or emotions. It seemed the only thing that she was ever struggling with was sadness. Nevertheless, their dancing is where they both truly shine.

As the third in two dynamics (Jerry/Lise and Adam/Jerry) Henri Baurel, played by Lucas Coatney-Murrieta, seemed underutilized, especially given his gravitas and energy. There could (and should) be more to make that happen. Adam Hochberg (Nicholas Barakos) playing the celebrated pianist and friend to Jerry, was warm, and fun, and led the audience through the show like a master storyteller. He portrayed Adam with such skill and nuance, from the exaggerated limp to the wise-cracking cutups. His acting and singing were an absolute delight. Maria Amorocho commanded the stage as the brusque and brash Madame Baurel. She was not to be trifled with or crossed yet she conveyed a hidden warmth that makes one want to melt that cold exterior. Finally, Milo Davenport, played by Amanda Lea LaVergne, was a clever mix of sexy, kooky, thoughtful, and resourceful, with a velvety voice on top. She is the friend you want to make mischief with and feel ok to do so. It's the story told by the people that the couple affects, rather than the couple themselves.

While not a perfect story, An American in Paris, will get one to that iconic place where dreams meet reality, anything's possible, and hope stays eternal. If there's anything that most people need right now, it's an escape to see and experience something beautiful. This show harkens back to that nostalgic era of Americana whose sole purpose is rekindling that feeling of joy and wonderment - that beating the bad guys, singing a song, and getting the love of your life - the rush of dopamine that washes over you. Maybe it's a little long and pandering to that effect, but overall, it's one of the best-produced shows that you can see in The Valley. And maybe we all need that right now.




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