Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Craig Lucas' new book for this stage adaptation uses the characters and situations from the film yet adds in many new elements and plot points. Set at the end of World War II, the story follows American soldiers Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg who decide to remain in Paris. Jerry is a painter and Adam a composer and they strike up a friendship with local Henri Baurel, a wealthy man who dreams of becoming a song and dance man in New York. Jerry and Adam become involved in the creation of a new ballet and all three friends find themselves infatuated with, unbeknownst to the each other, the ballet's mysterious lead dancer Lise Dassin. While it is a fairly typical boy meets girl story with a love triangle element (or in this case a love quadrangle), it is also a show in which just about everyone has secretswhether about their past, their artistic talents, or their secret love for Lise.
Using much of the music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin from the film plus several other Gershwin compositions, and exquisitely directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (he won a Tony for his choreography), it is a perfect combination of song, story and dance. Wheeldon incorporates many forms of dance, from ballet to jazz and even some tap, to create many showstopping moments which are danced by an exceptional cast who deliver detailed and fluid moves including superb lifts and leaps full of precise execution, style and passion.
The tour cast is sublime. McGee Maddox and Sara Esty are Jerry and Lise and both deliver refined portrayals with excellent dance abilities. Maddox only just took over the part of Jerry but you'd have no idea he is new to the part, or this production, as his performance is full of layers and nuance and the relationships he exhibits with his cast mates are full of realism. The power and determination he brings to the role fleshes out this conflicted man. Esty was in the original Broadway ensemble and was the alternate for this role. Her thoughtful, mysterious portrayal of Lise is perfect and she brings such beauty to her dancing with a strong stage presence that you can't take her eyes off of her. Both Maddox and Esty's dance skills are spotless and full of grace, vibrancy and elegance.
As Adam and Henri, Etai Benson and Nick Spangler deliver clear portrayals of these very different men. Benson's war-injured Adam is the narrator and voice of the show, infusing it with a sense of cynical realism but also glimmers of hope in act two when he realizes, "Life is already so dark. If you have the talent to bring hope, why would you hide it?" It is an incredibly touching portrayal that grounds the musical in the realism of life in Europe after WWII; he also provides several moments of humor with his comical line delivery. Spangler's performance is full of optimism, life and passion. While both men don't have anywhere near as many dance opportunities as Maddox, they do deliver a spectacular "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" which includes some nice steps that the two effortlessly deliver and is a crowd pleaser. Both also have rich singing voices that provide beautiful renditions of several Gershwin classics.
Emily Ferranti adds some nice touches to Milo Davenport, the wealthy benefactor of the ballet who tries to use Jerry to her advantage and learns some lessons in doing so. Gayton Scott and Christopher H. Howard are refined, polished, prim and proper as Henri's parents.
The creative elements provide constantly changing visual delights. Set designer Bob Crowley and 59 Productions (projections) won the Best Scenic Design Tony for their exceptional efforts which play off both the visual design of the film and Jerry's abilities as an artist with artwork that explodes into images on the back scrims that start out as black and white line drawings and then expand into fully fleshed out, animated renderings full of dazzling colors. Wheeldon uses his entire ensemble and perfectly orchestrated staged movement to exquisitely dance the set pieces on and off stage and quickly whisk us from one location to the next. Crowley also designed the costumes, which are exceptional and period perfect, especially the geometric shape dance costumes for the act two ballet that tie perfectly into the modern art designs of the time. Natasha Katz also won the Tony for her evocative lighting design.
With a brilliant cast, superb creative elements, sensational choreography that is flawlessly danced by an exceptional cast, and the excellent music of the Gershwins, An American in Paris is a sumptuous feast for the senses.
An American in Paris runs through April 23rd, 2017, at ASU Gammage located at 1200 S. Forest Avenue in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased at www.asugammage.com or by calling 480 965-3434. For more information on the tour, visit www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com.
Book by Craig Lucas, based on the film