BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and Pittsburgh
With the fighting over and the French Tricolour waving high, Paris finds itself beginning to stand straight again after a battering war. Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson) and Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), two former United States soldiers who fought in the war, stake their claim in the City of Lights in 1945, both for varying reasons. Add on top of this a beautiful young dancer who has caught the eyes of more than her dance instructors, and An American in Paris is born.
The show is unsurprisingly heavily focused on dancing, though not out of context; the premise follows Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), a young ballerina who finds herself the star of a new ballet commissioned by a rich American patroness, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti). The audience soon learns of a love rectangle that begins to form between Adam, Jerry, Henri, and Lise.
Adam narrates the show and is the pianist and composer of Lise's ballet, Jerry is the designer for Lise's piece, and Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler) is son of highly influential ballet patrons.
Ms. Ferranti and Mr. Spangler steal the show with their vocal abilities; resonating vibrato fills the space, while Mr. Maddox's dancing shows why he was cast in the lead role. Ms. Esty, who has been with the show since its inception, demonstrates her comfortability in the role as she moves across the stage with grace and ease. If you find yourself questioning the lack of dancing in the second act, just wait. George Gershwin's 17-minute musical suite "An American in Paris" will soon greet you.
Although the musical debuted in 2014, its origins can be traced far back into the twentieth century. The show follows a similar plot to the 1951 MGM Film of the same name and stars Pittsburgh-born Gene Kelly. With some dated material, the new stage version seems to unintentionally illuminate mid-twentieth century sexism with the helpless dancer, Lise, being overpowered by the dominant male archetype that is Jerry.
Still, the show received much critical acclaim. An American in Paris won the 2015 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical, though I have to question the competition that year, based on what is presented in the touring version of the show. The design relies heavily on the use of projections and moving panels that can be projected onto. This concept makes for a nice appearance, sometimes, but it raises questions in my head as to whether or not these designs were used to lower production costs of this show. Surely, a show of this scale deserves the grandeur that comes along with an old-time MGM musical.
The true winner of this show was the orchestrations. With music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and orchestrations by Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott, it is no wonder the show garnered the 2015 Tony Award for Best Orchestrations. In addition, the show received two other Tony Awards (Choreography and Lighting Design) out of its whopping 12 Tony Award nominations.
An American in Paris strikes a balance between ballet and musical, between elaborate and tawdry, and between progress and tradition. At times these scales should have been tipped in one direction or another, but the nearly three-hour show that resulted is a nice night out in the steel city, of lights.
An American in Paris is presented as part of Pittsburgh CLO's 2017 Summer Season and the PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh 2016-2017 series.
To see or not to see score: 5/9; Approved Show
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy