New York City Theater
"An American in Paris"
Oh joy! Oh rapture! The new musical, “An American in Paris,” is so exhilarating, it makes you want to 1) get up on stage, 2) go to Paris on the next plane, 3) cry. Yes, cry tears of happiness.
Demonstrating the exuberant strength and skill of the American musical, it’s paradoxically choreographed and directed by a Brit, Christopher Wheeldon. Obviously, more than inter-country trade agreements, the arts are the great leveler that can extend globalization and overcome polarization.
Craig Lucas’s book, though similar to the 1951 Oscar-winning film version, is clunky and thin as gauze. Ah, but when Terpsichore takes over, “who cares?” The latter happens to be one of the songs from the George and Ira Gershwin catalog, some of which were in the movie, seamlessly integrated into this story of post-World War II Americans who fall in love with Paris – and Parisiennes.
Starting with a prologue danced to “Concerto in F,” we get “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” “’S Wonderful,” “But Not For me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and, of course, “Shall We Dance?” And dance they do, arabesques and pirouettes, toes and taps, telling the story of three men in love with the same girl in the city of light and romance.
It’s just after World War II and G.I.’s dismissed from service don’t want to leave. Through their optimism, they bring joie de vivre back to a city devastated by the German presence. In the prologue, the changeover from bleakness to hope is done by flipping material imprinted with the black and red Nazi flag into the tricolor French.
That’s just one of the many clever, beautiful, heart-racing bits. One line has it that “love is more important than art,” a misnomer because love without art is empty calories. And this is a show brimming with love and art.
The two leads, Jerry Mulligan (a charming-to-the-teeth Robert Fairchild) and Lise Dassin (lovable gamine Leanne Cope) are meant for each other. But there are barriers: She’s engaged to Henri Baurel (a superb Max von Essen). Why? The answer, when it finally comes, is about as startling as a dish of haricots verts.
In outline, the stage version apes the Gene Kelly – Leslie Caron film. But it’s been re-imagined into a wondrous dance musical. Not only does the choreography speak of a Paris able to breathe freely again after the war, but the show itself is liberated in every conceivable way.
As Jerry, New York City Ballet principal Fairchild, is not only a charismatic actor, his soaring jetés soar the spirits as well. As Lise, the Royal Ballet’s Cope is the kind of gal everyone wants to protect. That’s the task that Henri and his family -- Veanne Cox as his doting mom and Scott Willis as his puppy-dog dad – supply. The third suitor for Lise’s hand is Gershwin stand-in Adam Hochberg, in the person of rich-voiced Brandon Uranowitz.
But nothing – nothing – not even Craig Lucas’ insubstantial libretto, can take away from Wheeldon’s choreography and direction that so beautifully capture the spirit of Paris through an American lens. Who could not love this show?
--David A. Rosenberg
April 29, 2015