Regional Reviews: Boston
An American in Paris
Also see Sarah's recent review of Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.
The national tour of An American in Paris premieres at Boston's Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre (through November 6th) only weeks after the closing of the Broadway production which was nominated for twelve 2015 Tony Awards and took home four "Bests" (Choreography, Orchestrations, Set Design, Lighting Design). This is a beautiful creation that gives the impression of being inside a painting as the artist makes colorful, sweeping brushstrokes, where line sketches of buildings magically draw themselves, and dancers pirouette on and off stage with inanimate set pieces as their lively partners. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's ballet background informs every component of An American in Paris, infusing the musical with terpsichorean flavor even when no one is dancing.
Inspired by the 1951 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, which starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the story of an American soldier who remains in Paris to pursue his art and a French ballerina torn between her career and her heart, has been expanded in the book by Craig Lucas. Additional George and Ira Gershwin songs develop the relationships and advance the story, often showing that dance steps speak louder than words. Even a non-English speaking person would have no difficulty understanding the feelings conveyed in the musical numbers if they simply absorb the signals in the dancers' movements.
Garen Scribner (Jerry Mulligan) captures the swagger and "regular Joe" aspects of the American in Paris, authentically connects with his newfound buddies, sings strongly, and is a powerful dancer. Adam is a composer who carries a torch for the ballerina, and Etai Benson finds the right blend of ardent admirer and lovestruck puppy. His character has a limp due to a war wound, but Benson tap dances up a storm in a dream production number ("I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise"one of many highlights) with Henri (Nick Spangler), the son of wealthy French industrialists and a wannabe song-and-dance man. Spangler has a gorgeous voice and plays the complexities of his character with nuance, never quite answering the question hinted at as he struggles with trying to become engaged to the woman all three men desire.
The object of their desire and the definitive star of the show is Sara Esty as Lise Dassin. The character is a lovely, gifted young woman who was saved during the occupation by Henri's family. Esty is a lovely, gifted young woman whose dancing is exquisite and just might break your heart. When she and Scribner share the stage for the ultimate pas de deux ("An American in Paris"), it far exceeds the price of admission. Their pairing is sensual and natural, every line matching and complementing the other, and their joy in the moment is palpable. Bookended by sections with the company, it is a lengthy number, yet I wished it would never end.
Actually, that's more or less how I felt about all of the dancing in the show. Fortunately, there is a hefty percentage of dancing and, as mentioned earlier, even the book scenes have a quasi-choreographed feeling in the way they flow and how the actors carry themselves. The principals are triple threat performers, including Emily Ferranti (graduate of The Boston Conservatory) as Milo Davenport, Gayton Scott as Madame Baurel, and Don Noble as Monsieur Baurel (the latter characters are Henri's parents). The larger ensemble, about a dozen and a half strong, athletically and energetically perform Wheeldon's creative choreography, and Barton Cowperthwaite shines as Lise's ballet partner.
Music director/conductor David Andrews Rogers leads the orchestra of thirteen musicians that often sounds like much more. It goes without saying that the Gershwin score is glorious, filled with the familiar ("I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," "'S Wonderful," "They Can't Take That Away from Me") and some fresh gems that present the opportunity for great dance numbers ("I've Got Beginner's Luck," "Fidgety Feet"). The visual spectacle is the result of collaboration among set/costume designer Bob Crowley, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and projection design by 59 Productions. Sound design by Jon Weston successfully balances the vocals and musicians, but some of the dialogue in the book scenes gets swallowed.
There is no shortage of superlatives to describe the touring production of An American in Paris, but most of them are overused. Rather than label it as sublime, or stunning, or as must see, I prefer to borrow a Gershwin song title that is most fitting: 'S Wonderful.
An American in Paris, performances through November 6, 2016, at Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-482-9393 or www.citicenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com.
Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, Book by Craig Lucas, Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon; Musical Score adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rob Fisher; Music Director, David Andrews Rogers; Orchestrations, Christopher Austin & Bill Elliott; Set & Costume Design, Bob Crowley; Lighting Design, Natasha Katz; Sound Design, Jon Weston; Projection Design, 59 Productions; Production Stage Manager, Kenneth J.Davis
Cast: Garen Scribner, Sara Esty, Etai Benson, Emily Ferranti, Gayton Scott, Nick Spangler, Ryan Steele, Leigh-Ann Esty, Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Jace Coronado, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Erika Hebron, Christopher M. Howard, Colby Q. Lindeman, Nathalie Marrable, Tom Mattingly, Caitlin Meghan, Alida Michal, Gia Mongell, Don Noble, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong, Blake Zelesnikar