Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
An American in Paris
Also see Zander's recent review of He Wrote Good Songs
Mix together music and lyrics penned by George and Ira Gershwin, the excellent book provided by Craig Lucas, and marvelous choreography and direction supplied by Christopher Wheeldon. The result (inspired by the 1951 film featuring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron) is as romantic and transportive as anyone could hope for.
Set in Paris, the time is 1945 and World War II is over. Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) is an American wannabe painter who has just concluded his time in the military. He is not the only man smitten with lithe ballerina Lise Dassin (Sara Esty). Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), whose foot was injured in the war and is a composer, also has eyes for her. Finally, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), aristocratic and ostentatiously French, pursues Lise, too. Rather than a love triangle, American in Paris finds three man in love with a uniquely attractive young dancer.
Milo Davenport (Emily Farranti), obviously taken with Jerry, eventually acknowledges that her quest will not succeed. Actress Gayton Scott plays Madame Baurel, Henri's mother, a strict, managing type of woman.
Jerry and Adam are asked by Milo (who has money) to collaborate on a ballet and the performance will star Lise Dassin. Milo, finding Jerry handsome and gifted, enables him to find his way in Paris as an artist. Lise, meanwhile, grapples with her passionate heart, drawn toward Jerryand her obligation to marry Henri.
It all occurs within the City of Light, a locale just beginning to recover from Nazi atrocities. Bob Crowley's set designs are numerous and, for the most part, swiftly executed. Pieces slide in and out as Paris moves from a difficult time to a place of renewal, a city regaining its breath. The scenes include cafes, gallery, waterside, gallery and so forth. Paris is emerging from darkness, as the Arc de Triomphe is barely evident when the show begins. The stage is soon energized and transformed with "Concerto in F." First act highlights include "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," beautifully vocalized by Sara Esty's Lise, a resplendent company number "'S Wonderful," and Milo singing "Shall We Dance?"
If anything, the production reaches even greater heights after intermission. "Fidgety Feet," cleverly creative, requires and receives actor dexterity from a large group, led by Garen Scribner as Jerry. As the leading man, Scribner is splendid throughout the evening. Later, a full, passionate, perfectly synchronized version of "An American in Paris" is, in a word, thrilling. The pas de deux, as Scribner and Esty perform, is precious. Crowley, who also designed costumes, has the principals in black with a touch of red. Others in the company wear multi-colored outfits. The two young leading dancer/actors are on pitch and each, during the Broadway run of American in Paris, sometimes appeared in the roles they now regularly carry as the national tour rolls forward.
This is a strong, exhilarating production which is, upon occasion, dazzling. It boasts crisp acting, sweet dancing, excellent bookand so much Gershwin! My minor quibble centers upon the delivery of a treasured tune, "But Not for Me," during the middle of the second act. I would rather have listened to an augmented version. Actor Benson delivers the lyrics fairly quickly and the words and import are gone. Otherwise, this American in Paris is rich and glorious. It is a performance one drinks in and savors.
An American in Paris continues at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut through November 20th, 2016. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com.