Thursday, June 22, 2017
“’S Wonderful’ “An American in Paris” at State Theatre
“9 to 5,” “Aladdin,” “Ghost,” “Groundhog Day,” “The Producers,” and “Hairspray” are all Hollywood films that were transformed into Broadway musicals. Another of that ilk, “An American in Paris,” is on stage at the State Theatre.
Based on the 1951 Academy Award winning film, the stage version, with music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and book by Craig Lucas, opened on the Great White Way in April of 2015 and ran until mid-October of 2016. It won Tony Awards for best choreography, lighting design, scenic design and orchestrations.
With the theme, “A time of hope. A city of dreams. A love story for the ages,” “American in Paris A New Musical” is a symphony of music, dance, and special effects. The stage is a constant blur of ever-changing electronic media, mood enhancing lighting, visually pleasing costumes and artistic dance. The choreography, created by the brilliant Christopher Wheeldon who also directed the epic, incorporates ballet, jazz and contemporary movements to create a new style and vocabulary of stage movement.
In many ways, “An American In Paris” is an old-fashioned Broadway musical. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl falls in love, problems cause them to be separated, they come together, and, of course, they will live happily ever after. But few, if any, traditional musicals have resulted in such an elegant mélange of music, dance and concept as this show.
Jerry Mulligan, an American soldier, decides, following World War II, to stay in France and hone his skills as an artist.
In Paris, he sees and is smitten by Lise Dassin, a ballet dancer. He finds out that she is engaged to Henri Baurel, a Parisian aristocrat. Both Lise and Henri have hidden stories that help form the underbelly of the tale. To complicate the goings-on, Jerry’s friend, Adam Hochberg, an American who was injured in the war and has also decided to stay in Paris, who is the ballet’s accompanist, also has a crush on the lovely Lise.
Through many twists, turns, revelations and lots of singing and dancing, the tale comes to its logical end with Lise and Jerry coming to the conclusion that “For You, For Me, Forevermore,” “They Can’t Take that Away From Me.”
From its opening expository dance sequence, to the concluding ballet, “An American In Paris: A New Musical,” seamlessly unfolds as a visually compelling production that is breathtaking to watch.
The elegant, artsy projections by 59 Productions create a cityscape of Paris, that makes the smell of baguettes baking, the trickling sound of the meandering Seine River, and the illuminating gaslights of the city live. The effect is aided by the lighting of Natasha Katz and the scenery and costumes by Bob Crowley.
The orchestrations are both lush and, at times, jazzy. The musical sounds are full, enhancing the singing and dancing.
The triple threat cast is generally strong. The petite, lovely, Sara Esty, a Leslie Caron look-alike, who was the understudy for the Broadway run, captivates as Lise. Her dancing, singing and acting are top-notch. (BTW, her sister, Leigh-Ann plays the roll on Sunday evenings during the Cleveland run).
Though he sings, dances and performs at a high level, handsome McGee Maddox, is missing the macho-presence that garnered Robert Fairchild a Tony nomination for best actor in a musical. Maddox’s rendition of “Fidgety Feet” makes sitting calmly in a seat without tapping your toes impossible.
Etai Benson does a nice turn as the piano playing, wise-cracking Adam. “But Not for Me, sung with Emily Ferranti (Milo) was a strong duet.
Nick Spangler is strong as the sexually conflicted Henri, Lise’s fiancée, who knows that she is Jewish and was hidden by his family during the war while he secretly was in the resistance. He has a strong singing voice.
Capsule judgement: My Broadway review of “An American In Paris, A New Musical,” stated that it was “a visual, dance-driven Broadway story-telling creation that is gorgeous, enchanting, seamless and sophisticated.” Though I won’t go raise the banner as high for the touring production, I will say that it is a very, very pleasing and “’S Wonderful” evening of theater.
Tickets for An American In Paris A New Musical, which runs through July 9, 2017, at the State Theatre, can be ordered by calling 216-241-6000 or by going to www.playhousesquare.org.