Have you noticed that musicals are cool again? New musicals like La La Land and Beauty and the Beast are making their mark in America. History has shown us that most great musicals come out in times of anxiety and disorder…hello?! Musicals help provide us with escapism…who doesn’t want to get away sometimes? Audiences love watching a beautiful fantasy about young people succeeding. Think about Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers…they provided an elegant distraction from the Great Depression. Classic musicals like Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris offer that escapism that people are craving and now we’re seeing them pop up again today.
An American in Paris is the theatrical version of Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly’s Gershwin-themed 1951 screen musical…very different from the Vincente Minnelli movie. Even today, the late Kelly continues to inspire dancers, choreographers and directors such as Damien Chazelle (La La Land) and British ballet dancer Christopher Wheeldon, who directed this balletic musical. English choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, who ranks with choreographers like Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, is a master at connecting storytelling through the language and romance of dance.
George Gershwin’s beloved ‘s wonderful jazzy American standards are still timeless today and they work well with the displays of bold primary colors and geometric shapes in Wheeldon’s An American in Paris on Broadway.
‘S wonderful, ‘s marvelous
You should care for me
Well, ‘s awful nice, ‘s paradise
‘S what I love to see
Wheeldon opens the show in 1945 (unlike the movie which opened in 1951) just after the end of the war. Paris is traumatized…dark and poor not cheerful and light. Opening with scenes of a shorn-headed collaboratrice being manhandled by the crowd. Wheeldon says, “In many ways, [the changes] makes the romance more potent because there is a contrast of the darkness and the light.”
The show is about an American WWII veteran trying to make it as an artist in a newly liberated Paris. American soldiers, Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) and Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), stay in Paris after the end of the war. The painter and composer befriend a wealthy Frenchman, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler) and all become involved in the production of a new ballet. They also all fall in love with the same woman, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), who has a secret past.
An American in Paris is a love letter to the City of Lights. The virtuosic designs take us all around Paris…people fishing on the Seine and shoppers in the Galeries Lafayette. It’s a style fit for Gershwins’ irresistible “(I’ll Build a) Stairway to Paradise.”
The dancers display balletic grace and emotion that seem effortless. These performers are true triple threats…they act, sing and dance so well that they lift you right out of your seat to take you along for the ride.
Escape with An American in Paris while you still can.