Book by Craig Lucas; Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Broadway, New Musical
Open Ended Run
The Palace Theater, 1564 Broadway
by Geri Silver on 4.12.15
Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope in An American in Paris. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
BOTTOM LINE: Fans of ballet and Gershwin music will be charmed by this stage adaptation of the Oscar-winning post-WWII film.
There's more than a little nostalgia infused in Broadway's stage adaptation of the 1951 film An American in Paris. Gershwin's classic tunes "I Got Rhythm," "S'Wonderful," and "They Can't Take That Away" elicit audible sighs of pleasure from affectionate audience members, most of whom associate the classic songbook with a far-off Golden Age. A large dance ensemble taps their toes with verve; a 16-minute orchestral ballet number receives thunderous applause. The new musical, visually beautiful though structurally thin and frequently shaky, delivers this nostalgic charm against a gorgeous backdrop of a post-war Paris.
Adapted by playwright Craig Lucas, An American in Paris is a post-WWII romance about an American artist and former soldier Jerry (Robert Fairchild) and French ballerina Lise (Leanne Cope). Both with good looks and magnetic talent, love triangles abound as composer Adam (Brandon Uranowitz) and wealthy aspiring performer Henri (Max Von Essen) compete for Lise's affection, while affluent American Milo (Jill Paice) tries to win Jerry's heart with money and career opportunities. After a picturesque "love at first sight" meeting on the streets of Paris, Jerry knows little about Lise's dark past but is determined to do whatever it takes to win her love.
The stage adaptation is directed and choreographed by revered ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, and there's no question the storytelling is heavily shaped by a choreographer's vision. Key moments and emotional discoveries are established through movement and ballet, executed with graceful precision by Fairchild and Cope, both professional ballet dancers making their Broadway debuts. With beautifully dynamic projections by 59 Productions, many sequences are a feast for the eyes and a stunning spectacle to witness.
However, this does little to service any real emotional investment in the characters, who often break out into recognizable Gershwin melodies with little connection to the story and are given only minimal opportunity to develop through dialogue. The dated boy-chases-girl story may offer a whiff of old-school romance, but the undeveloped love story hardly compels in comparison to more modern and thankfully more layered portrayals of men and women we've come to expect from writing today. The final product feels to be a patchwork musical, indulging the audience with visual spectacles and beloved melodies at the expense of cohesive musical storytelling.
Make no mistake -- those seeking a nostalgic evening of George and Ira Gershwin's music will find much to love in An American in Paris, and the show is a must-see for anyone with a passion for ballet. The show soars on those two accounts, and the projections on Bob Crowley's versatile set is one of the most remarkable visual treats on Broadway today. It's far from a masterpiece, but this new musical adaptation will certainly strike gold for theatergoers with nostalgia for the Golden Age.
(An American in Paris plays at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, in an open run. Performances are Tuesdays at 7PM; Wednesdays at 2PM and 8PM; Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 2PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $57-$147 and are available at ticketmaster.com.)