‘AN AMERICAN IN PARIS’ IT'S WONDERFUL, IT'S MARVELOUS, A DANCE MUSICAL THAT SWEEPS YOU AWAY
WITH LOVE AND LIFE
This film to stage musical brings Paris the City of Light, a beautiful finesse dance musical, under the pounding score of George and Ira Gershwin. The sweeping AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is now on stage at SHN’s Orpheum stage through October 8 th. 1944 Paris takes full charge in this musical loosely based on the 1951 film. This grand musical version opened in New York in 2015 with tremendous reviews. It went on to win four Tony Awards including those for choreography, lighting, orchestrations, and scenic design. This is George and Ira Gershwin’s love letter to Paris. Directed and choreographed by famed ballet master Christopher Wheeldon. a gifted gem of the ballet world.
The movie starred Gene Kelly as the American serviceman who decides to remain in Paris following World War II. Icon movies have become a familiar staple on Broadway that mostly fail, “Roman Holiday” may or may not open in NY based on its poor reception here in San Francisco earlier this season. Last month “Gigi,” opened based on an Oscar-winning MGM movie set in Paris, also featuring a screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner opened to lukewarm applause. Dance, on the other hand, has become a positive trend on Broadway, which makes Wheeldon’s celebration all the sweeter. Playwright Craig Lucas’ fresh script, it now makes sense historically and hits that post war feeling.
Ira Gershwin composed the ballet sequence music in 1928. In this current stage version there is concern that the “City of Lights” had lost its glow during four years of Nazi occupation during the War. Jerry Mulligan and his pals Adam and Henri set about to change that mood from darkness to light by creating a glorious ballet. The superb McGee Maddox, Ryan Steele, Nick Spangler and Stephen Brower, play the three men and bring that extra charm to this story that basically follows the story from the original picture. Despite the post-war setting “An American In Paris” is a sunny piece of song-and-dance nostalgia that I did not want to end.
The two and half hour musical opens with the “Concerto in F” opening dance sequence that sets the polished pace of this heart pounding series of dance numbers. Craig Lucas wrote the book and musical score is adapted and arranged by Rob Fisher, with the classics including “Shall We Dance”, “S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm,” each number a show stopper. Director Wheeldon’s dance sequences, brought the sold out opening night audience almost to their feet at the end of each sweeping company number they each dazzle and delight.
The standard boy meets girl tale, Jerry falls in love with a young French girl, Lise. McGee Maddox and Ryan Steele share the role of Jerry in the touring company production, with famed ballet dancer and star of the Broadway cast, Sara Esty as Lise. They are wonderful to watch and wonderful to hear. The original story has been changed a bit, but the basic charm remains intact. The subtext plot deals with after the Resistance Movement against the Nazi’s. It is when the performers are dancing, “Second Prelude” that the show shines.
The Gershwin sound track is the show’s power along with the breathless dance, balanced with Bob Crowley’s scenic design and terrific costumes that capture the beauty of Paris. Boats floating in the Seine swimming in starlight, pink clouds floating over the rooftops at dusk, this musical is a rich visual feast. 59 Productions created the clever video projections that bring the seaside and city to life including animation of each of the leads. These animations can be overused with most new shows, but “Paris” are the most creative and interesting I have seen.
It is a pleasant story where conflicts can easily be overcome in a few bars of music. Writer Lucas does a lavish job of moving the story with a breezy pace, giving the corny plot some likable jokes and adding somber reflection of a post war hurt. The only downside is the admirable attempts to modernize the script with a some blue words and adding a gay question in the world of this squeaky clean, era of MGM musicals that only hinted to the “nancy” in the story.
The impressive Etsy is extravagant, her dancing is beautiful and singing with a clear soprano alongside Steele and Maddox who both prove handsome and dapper lead, as well as a good foil to wise-guy Adam played by the exceptional Stephen Browler (Pippin) and dapper Nick Spangler as Henri, (Book Of Mormon) is sparkling with his first rate comic timing. The large ensemble cast is sizzling strong, all dancing with high flying swing and kicks and singing with vibrato and vintage tone of 1940’s MGM headliners. (Leigh Ann Esty and Caitlin Meighan also rotate in the demanding dance role of Lise).
Emily Ferranti is forward and sophisticated as Milo, an American heiress who falls for Jerry. Nick Spangler shines as Henri, a Parisian heir to whom Lise is the promised bride.
Spangle celebrates in an impossibly glamorous number, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.” Gayton Scott and Don Noble are delicious as Henri’s stuck up proper parents. This is the only tap number in the show and frankly even though it is a show stopper, I was more blown away with the ballet/jazz sequences. The whole ensemble is phenomenal.
Whether they are causing havoc with Jerry in a posh department store number “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck”, spoofing Nijinsky “The Eclipse of Uranus” or dancing in the primary-colored, modern ballet “An American in Paris,” they’re a dream come true.
Director Wheeldon splendid dances are poised, political, balletic with an athletic, sensuous, touch and he brings “An American in Paris” its deep arc of love and classic vintage Paris/Hollywood to life. The climax is Wheeldon’s crowning creative colorful 17 minute ballet that’s terrifically performed and captures the moves of Tharp, Kelly, Nureyev and Fosse into the classical ballet too good for a hollywood picture. Backed by a lush, string-heavy, 13-piece orchestra conducted by the brilliant David Andrews Rogers, this is one of the moments when “An American In Paris” raised the bar of being not just a basic Great American Songbook musical.
“An American in Paris” is a truly beautiful show, the music, the sets, and the choreography left me breathless. As the show fades to black a standing heartfelt lengthy ovation was perfect for this gorgeous gem. SHN as always offers 40.00 rush seats or you can use TodayTix ap. Make this your show to open the fall season of theatre in the Bay Area, come ready to celebrate in the city of lights.
‘AN AMERICAN IN PARIS’
Book by Craig Lucas, music by George Gershwin,
Direction and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon,
based on the 1951 movie
Music Director David Andrews
Only through: Oct. 8
Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
Running time: two hours, 40 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $45-$214, 888-746-1799. www.shnsf.com
Tickets at https://www.shnsf.com/Online/default.asp
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy
40.00 in person at the Box Office
A limited number of $40 Rush tickets will be available for every performance beginning 2 hours prior to curtain at the SHN Orpheum Theatre Box Office. Tickets are subject to availability. Cash only 2 per person. Rush tickets are void if resold.
$40 DAY OF TICKETS - USE YOUR CELL PHONE
Download the TodayTix app in the iOS App Store or Google Play Store to unlock the Rush ticketing feature for AMERICAN IN PARIS! by sharing on Facebook or Twitter through the app. Check back in the app at 9:00 am for access to exclusive day-of $40 Rush tickets for every performance. Limited number of Rush tickets per performance.