BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is Lighter Than Air at the Orpheum Theatre
Terpsichorean acolytes can rejoice in the tour of An American in Paris, which just landed at the Orpheum Theatre and is as dance-y a piece of musical theatre as one could wish, if one wished for such things.
The production is directed and choreographed by former Royal Ballet star Christopher Wheeldon, who helmed the Broadway edition to twelve Tony nominations and four awards including a trophy for his very classy moves. Equally lauded were the scenic designs by Bob Crowley and projections by 59 Productions, which continue to treat the eye even after the "fidgety feet" have been stilled. (Crowley also designed the costumes which drape and flow gorgeously over each arched extension and grand jeté.)
There's also plenty of ear candy in classic Gershwin titles like "I Got Rhythm," "'S Wonderful," "Liza," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," and the glorious title composition, which underscores the extended second-act finale ballet, though the latter sounded somewhat asynchronously-served on opening night.
With so many strong elements it its favor, it is disappointing to report that the whole delivers far less than the sum of its parts. The wonderfully staged opening sequence of swirling elements evokes a Paris weary of wartime privation striving toward something at least next to normal, a theme that recurs later in the plot.
The three male leads meet cute and become fast friends. G.I. Jerry (McGee Maddox) skips the post-war trip stateside to sketch the mise en scene. Gloomily pragmatic composer Adam (Stephen Brower) has already staked a creative claim in café, working with wannabe chanteur Henri (Nick Spangler) who has a secret or three to juggle. Each of them connect to lissome Lise (Sara Esty), a danseuse with a dark-ish past. Complications for all ensue with the introduction of Milo Davenport (Emily Ferrranti), an American dilettante who wears her nouveau riche like an awkward bit of last season's couture.
With the players introduced, the destination is clear. If only the uninspired book by Craig Lucas made the path into a more interesting journey. To be fair, the conflicts are all fairly vieux chapeau, but the dialogue does nothing to breathe any life into them.
This shortcoming is not helped by a cast that is competent at best, with the exception of Gayton Scott's ever frazzled frisson as Madame Baurel, Esty, who reveals a charming hint of the conflicted Leslie Caron-Audrey Hepburn waif in the scenes that don't capitalize on her ballerina graces, and Spangler, who brings a lovably frustrated spark - and the best voice in the company - to his closeted crooner.
Curiously, his big second-act production number, while utilizing an inspired set change, delivers some of the least interesting choreography of the evening, with awkward crosses and a notable shortage of razzle-dazzle footwork.
The other "dance problem" with this production is Maddox, who isn't an exceptional actor or singer, but is boyishly handsome, puppy-dog adorable, and an amazing dancer. Too amazing. Too much pointe, too much technique. Too much George Balanchine and not enough Michael Kidd.
Even with a "this is not the movie" caveat, it's still hard not to yearn for a little of the earthy physicality that Gene Kelly brought to the film. With Maddox, Jerry Mulligan is lighter than air and it would be better if this American in Paris spent more time on the ground.
An American in Paris runs through October 8 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre.
Images: Matthew Murphy