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A CurtainUp Review
An American In Paris
By Elyse Sommer
The Original Review
Bottom line: It's a Wow! The book by playwright Craig Lucas is an okay attempt to add depth. Though a bit too convoluted it works fairly well. But whether it's a vast improvement on Alan Jay Lerner's screenplay doesn't matter. Even the iconic movie was really all about the dancing. And the dancing in this new An American in Paris is sublime. Add the lovely, ear-hugging Gershwin tunes (some from other Gershwin shows), the stunning stage craft and performances — and what you've got is a theatrical sweetshop filled to the brim with delectable eye and ear candy.
Set as it is in Paris and revolving around the aspiring ballerina with whom two Americans and a Parisian are smitten, it made sense to open this delicious dansical at the Théâtre du Châtelet before moving it to Broadway's Palace Theater. Though Parisians aren't exactly American musicals' biggest fans, this one garnered applaudissements galore. If the audience at the press preview I attended is any indication, there will be lots more clapping and bravos at the Palace. All well deserved!
What distinguishes this first ever stage version of the movie are ballet star Christopher Wheeldon's (here serving as director and choreographer) dazzling story telling ballet scenes, and equally dazzling design work of set and costume wizard Bob Crowley. There's also the pleasurable surprise of discovering two ballet dancers who not only float and leap with spectacular grace, but who can sing and act quite well.
Robert Fairchild seems as at home as the lead in a big Broadway musical as at the NYC Ballet where he's a principal dancer. Truly a case of a star is born! His co-star, Leanne Cope, an artist with the Royal ballet, is also a worthy successor to Leslie Caron. She even looks quite a bit like her.
The rejiggered book retains the same main characters as the film. The key characters are three young men, all smitten with the same woman: Artist Jerry Mulligan (Fairchild), composer Adam Hochberg (Brandon Ukanowitz) and entertainer Henri Baurel (Max Von Essen). The object of their affections is elfin ballerina Lise Dassin (Cope). She's now Jewish as part of the script's focus on the tensions and still painful memories of the just ended Nazi occupation. (The movie played out five years later).
Milo Davenport (Jill Paice) an American patron of the arts, was also in the movie but two characters added to support Lucas's focus on the lingering post-war traumas are Henri's parents (Veanne Cox and Scott Willis) who were responsible for Lisa to survive and follow in her mother's footsteps as a ballerina.
Like it or not, the Lucas book gave Wheeldon the means to knock our socks off with a breathtaking opening in which the French flag replaces a giant Nazi flag and we see the Company capturing the mood of Parisians joyously ready for Paris to live again as everyone's dream city but also still intent on settling scores with war time collaborators. Along with the dancers filling the stage, we see Fairchild and Cope as they spot each other for the first time. Wheeldon has smartly mounted this obvious tribute to Ballanchine's famous Slaughter on Tenth Avenue to excerpts from Gershwin's "Concerto in F."
It may seem impossible to top that thrilling opening, but the songs keep coming, and the dancing continues to soar and delight. "Fidgety Feet" from Oh, Kay is great fun. And no worries about the great title number. It's another jewel in this jewel-studded show.
The ballet dancers who can act mesh well with the actors with stage rather than ballet credentials. Max von Essen, a musical theater veteran has been given the stand-out role he deserves as Henri. He sensitively portrays the young man more interested in becoming a cabaret singer than going into the family business. The second act's "I'll Build a Staircase to Paradise" showcases his soaring vocals and puts to rest any quibbles about a missing staircase. Jill Paice, another accomplished musical theater performer" is fine in the fairly minor role of Milo but she does get one big solo, "Shall We Dance?"
Brandon Uranowitz nicely bookends the narrative as the composer who gets the girl through his music and does well in several song and dance turns. Veanne Cox, who's always managed to make the most of supporting roles, does so again as the uptight but heroic Madame Baurel, who underneath it all loves singing and dancing as much as her son.
No review of this very stage-worthy An American in Paris would be complete without acknowledging Rob Fisher's handling of the music, the projections by 59 Productions, and lighting and sound design of Natasha Katz and Jon Weston.
If Gene Kelly, the original Jerry Mulligan, could find a stairway from which to descend long enough for a look at this show, I think he'd sing "Bravo" along with the rest of us.
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An American In Paris
Music and Lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin
Book: Craig Lucs Directed And Choreographed By Christopher Wheeldon
Principal Cast Members: Robert Fairchild (Jerry Mulligan), Leanne Cope (Lise Dassin), Veanne Cox (Madame Baurel), Jill Paice (Milo Davenport), Brandon Uranowitz (Adam Hochberg), Max von Essen (Henri Baurel), Scott Willis (Monsieur Baurel, also Store Manager), Victor J. Wisehart (Mr. Z), Rebecca Eichenberger (Olga).
Sets and Costumes: Bob Crowley
Lighting: Natasha Katz
Sound: Jon Weston
Musical score adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher
Orchestrations: Christopher Austin
Musical direction: Brad Haak
Projections: 59 Productions
Dance arrangements: Sam Davis
Musical supervision: Todd Ellison
Music supervisor: Todd Ellison
Orchestrations by Christopher Austin
Dance arrangements by Sam Davis
Music coordinator, Seymour Red Press
Additional orchestrations by Don Sebesky and Bill Elliott
Stage Manager: Rick Steiger
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours with one intermission
Palace Theater 47th Street and Broadway
From 3/13/15; opening 4/12/15; open ended-changed to 1/01/17 closing
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 10th press preview
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