BWW Review: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at Music Theatre Wichita, Around the World in 14 Days
From the alps of Austria to the perfumery of Paris, Music Theatre Wichita continues its excellence in musical theatre standards with their second show of the summer season, An American in Paris; a suitable show selection set after the end of World War II. Based on the 1928 orchestrations of George Gershwin during his time in Paris and also the 1951 MGM film starring Gene Kelly, this stage adaptation of An American in Paris was most recently on Broadway in 2015 at the Palace Theatre in New York City. It wasn't until then that this filmed musical was tailored for the stage by playwright Craig Lucas. Regional theatres across the United States are eager to produce the production now that the copyrights are available, four years after the initial Broadway debut. Music Theatre Wichita's production is no exception by any means, incorporating a revolving stage and projections bringing Broadway right here to our own all-American city, Wichita.
Nine leads carry the cast. They are Clyde Alves (Jerry Mulligan), Julie Eicher (Lise), Ben Fankhauser (Adam), Rachel Rhodes-Devey (Milo Davenport), Johnny Stellard (Henri Baurel), Karen L. Robu (Madame Baurel), Timothy W. Robu (Monseier Baurel), Michael Dikegoros (Mr. Z) and Abby Kress (Olga). All do a fine job and certainly meet the criteria of Berkley song and dance types. For starters, the Robus have spot-on accents for their characters, particularly Karen as the French maternal figure to Henri Baurel. Matching her delivery is Johnny Stellard. Stellard is charming as her offspring as well as giving subtle hints to loving much more than the fairer sex. (If you are completely stumped on figuring out what he's ultimately trying to say, then I recommend watching De-Lovely, a biography on the life of Cole Porter, another fascinating composer from the same time period.)
Dikegoros and Kress portray ballet instructors whose goal of precision is conveyed through dialogue, body language, and attitude. Rachel Rhodes-Devey is sultry as Milo Davenport, having grown fond of Mulligan's art work, not to mention striking on stage in appearance. Ben Fankhauser as Adam was wonderfully talented, sang beautiful soaring notes, and narrated the story quite lovely, having dialogue about both love and art. He and Stellard have important conversations concerning hiding Jewish people during the war, making one wonder if we will have to do the same in our current political climate. (My house is available on fourteenth street in Rockhurst.) Finally, its Alves and Eicher whose romantic chemistry on stage captures the audience's attention to what life was like after the second world war and how American men seemed to find international romance. Both were athletic having to execute difficult partnering work in ballet, making one wish for more limber days. Alves even achieved flips and gymnastics at the conclusion of act one during the "Cuban Overture." Again, the actors did the show justice. But it was their talents in the dance numbers that truly made the show come alive.
If you decide to attend, pay particular attention to the opening number "Concerto in F," choreographed and directed by brilliant Jeffry Denman. You will know immediately we are in for a visual evening. Denman's staging was wonderful throughout, having to find action for the performers to do in each song and dance number while paying homage to classical musical theatre amid projections and a rotating stage to contest. Talk about an astute mind to block a production knowing that the stage would be moving and set pieces needed to be placed fittingly to avoid collision with performers and other set pieces coming onstage. Another standout number with lots of activity is "I've Got Beginner's Luck" taking place in the perfumery where Lise works. While there were a few hiccups of playing catch with props, there is a lot of sleight of hand work happening right before your very eyes not to be missed, particularly transitions of getting into and out of the scene itself. At the conclusion of both acts there are ballet sequences and they are just thrilling to watch. Stand out performers in the ensemble are Lena Owens dressed as a classy cat from the era and Paul Amrani as a featured danseur. Amrani, according to his program bio, has extensive ballet training at the Houston Ballet Academy and it clearly shows.
Technical advancements of course included the revolving set and projections. The set was designed by David L. Arsenault which had moving pieces like dance studio mirrors or the piano at the beginning and throughout the show. Projected illustrations were created by Michael Commendatore which copied movements being done by the actors on stage or created additional scenery. Costumes by George T. Mitchell were elegant and appropriate. Mitchell has a long legacy of television and international design. The costumes for this production had definite European flair and fashion having a 1950s retro style. Sound design by David Muehl had no noticeable glitches. Every sound cue and performer were heard distinctly. Properties done by Anna Rosell made keen special appearances most notably at the top of act two for the number "Fidgety Feet" where players danced wildly with champagne glasses. I can only imagine this show to be a nightmare as far as lightning cues and stage manager calls, but for lighting designer Aaron Mooney and stage manager Amanda K. Bowman, they made a nightmare a dream.
Overall, one may ask, was this show as good as The Sound of Music seen just two weeks prior? In my personal, honest and humble opinion, unfortunately the answer is no, however, on the sliding scale of one to ten, I'd give this show a nine with two thumbs up.
Up next, MTWichita presents A Chorus Line starring David Elder as Zach and Paige Faure as Cassie. There may not be a lot of references to war, but you will certainly be lost at the ballet through love for the performing arts.
What: An American in Paris, Music Theatre Wichita
When: June 26-30
Thursday at 7:30 pm
Friday at 8:00pm
Saturday at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sunday at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Where: Century II Concert Hall
Actors in MTWichita's production AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, playing at Century II June 26-30, features set design by David L. Arsenault and projections by Michael Commendatore.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF: Kacy Meinecke