So I did the next best thing and caught the elegant musical version of An American in Paris at the aptly named Palace last night. Such a regal display of artistry in every way possible on stage–it’s practically an embarrassment of riches.
Like the colorful, flavorful arrangement of Laduree macaroons, this show is so exceedingly dazzling in performance and production values–I didn’t know where to look! It’s a glorious experience, both visual and aural–so much is happening here.
Let me immediately get the least interesting component out of the way. The slim story–a cliched love “rectangle” in this case–is merely an excuse to present this exquisite production. There’s no intriguing, unique plot here, nor should there be, as the point in this high energy production is precisely the endless possibilities and dazzling joy of music and dance “en pointe.” It is the performances and the gorgeous telling which enraptures the audience. We open with the joy in 1945 Paris surrounding the liberation from the Nazis and meet the archetypal American GI who elects to stay in Paris and paint. No surprise here, Jerry (Robert Fairchild) immediately sights and falls for the requisite stunning Parisian ballet dancer, Lise (Leanne Cope.) Round up the remainder of the usual, albeit broke, suspects–the ex patriot composer, the struggling writer, the rich American heiress–well, you know exactly where this story is going even if you have never viewed the iconic film version (which you should) starring the fabulous Gene Kelly and ethereal Leslie Caron.
Like the beautifully crafted city of Paris itself, every dance step, every hat, glove and dress, every costume, every musical measure, every inch of the sets have been carefully chosen and choreographed to create an aesthetic on stage rarely seen–a stunning blend of elements composing a feast for our senses. C’est magnifique.
The songs and glorious George Gershwin orchestral score with lyrics by Ira Gershwin is, of course, perfection. When I discussed Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess for UsedYorkCity several years back, I stated that music of this caliber will never come around again. I maintain that the genius of Gershwin will never be surpassed, unless someone–somehow–somewhere–invents another 12 tone scale. Yet what blew me away with this version of An American in Paris are the magnificent orchestrations and arrangements for this musical aspect of this 2.5 hour feast. Kudos to Rob Fisher, who has intelligently adapted, arranged and supervised the score. C’est magnifique! And well done you–i.e. Brad Haak, the show’s musical director, for an orchestra up to the challenging task of presenting acutely chromatic, interpretive, rhythmically driven music, and I gladly add that the vocals are worthy of Gershwin’s gems.
However it is truly the dazzling direction and inventive freedom in the choreograph of England’s Christopher Wheeldon that wraps the audience in delight–no small feat for this show’s dancing feet! When word crossed the Atlantic that the stage version of American in Paris would leave the banks of the Seine for Broadway, I was anticipating a French revolution (if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!) But when I read that the balletic Wheeldon was at the helm, I assuredly and gladly folded my tricolor. This is indeed a welcome Norman conquest.
Yet like a box of delicious Peyard chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get–I went to a ballet, and a rousing, good old fashioned Broadway tap number broke out! Of course you await the 2nd Act with knowing anticipation for Wheeldon’s take on the famous American in Paris ballet piece–a delight on its own, a tres jolie tribute to the City of Lights and all its artistic and romantic promise. And it is precisely here where you fall for (if you haven’t already) our American in Paris, the multi-talented Robert Fairchild. He defies gravity alongside the fabulous dancer, Leanne Cope, but it is the full company forming such a harmonious whole that has you cheering “Vive la France!”
‘S wonderful…’S marvelous…a beautiful theater experience, a perfect show for our long awaited, welcome Spring…yet a timeless show for all seasons.
By: Joanne Theodorou
p.s. in case you missed the Tony announcement, this show was nominated for 12 awards, including best musical. just in case you needed more convincing to go;-)