BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS S'Wonderful Spectacular of Dance and Song
The current touring production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is an absolutely resplendent musical from start to finish. Heavy on the dance and with stunning sets, this show is a feast for the senses that will have your toes tapping and fill your heart with joy.
Set in Paris after World War II, AMERICAN is the story of Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), a war vet on his way home, who spies a beautiful girl in the the crowd, and decides to stay and test his luck at becoming a starving artist. He quickly meets a few other "bohemians" including American composer Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott) and French singer Henri Baurel (Ben Michael). Jerry manages to find the girl he saw in the crowd--Lise, a ballet dancer, but complications arise to test their professional ambitions and personal connection.
This production is very dance-heavy, and there's remarkably little actual dialogue, but despite that and despite a somewhat complicated love... quadrilateral, kind of, it's perfectly easy to fall in love with each of the characters and understand their motivations and struggles. The company of dancers is gigantic, which makes the musical numbers that much more thrilling. The exceptional use of projection and moving setpieces take advantage of every inch of the PPAC stage perfectly and hurtle the audience around the neighborhoods of Paris with breathtaking dazzle. This is a visually stunning show from start to finish, and it's clear that every single detail was a deliberate and excellent choice.
The performances also manage to not be upstaged by the sets and lights. McGee Maddox has the build and looks of a young Gene Kelly and the dancing prowess to match. He's a classically trained ballet dancer, and it shows in every movement and muscle. He is electrifying to watch, and considering his dancing ability, one might think that his singing voice might be a weaker point, but that's not the case either.
Matthew Scott provides the comic relief as Adam Hochberg. He has a dry, New York wit that charms, and a limp from the war that prevents him from being able to dance, except in an outstanding dream sequence toward the end of Act II. Ben Michael rounds out their trio of male compatriots as Henri, the aspiring singer who has to hide his passions from his wealthy family. The three male leads have such an effortless rapport together that it seems like they've always been friends.
Allison Walsh is the object of these men's affection--Lise. Lise is a ballet dancer, who is engaged to Henri, but it's somewhat out of gratitude, rather than true love. Walsh previously danced with The Joffrey Ballet, and her skills are as evident as those of Maddox. She seems to float about three inches above the stage at all times.
This production clearly focused on finding a cast who are dancers first, and that is a large part of what makes it so wonderful. Additionally, this is a show that really embraced the optimism and spirit of Europe after World War II, when everything had been so hard for so long finally faded away. All of the characters are pursuing their passions in a way that's exciting to watch, and the joy and excitement of it is infectious.
An America in Paris runs March 13-18 at Providence Performing Arts Center 220 Weybosset St, Providence RI. Tickets at PPACRI.org or by calling 401-421-2787
Photo: An American in Paris Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy