3.5 out of 4 stars
“An American in Paris” is enchanting Chicago this summer with joie de vivre (joy of living)! Inspired by the Academy-Award winning film, “An American in Paris” is the romantic story about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of the Second World War. Under the direction of 2015 Tony Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon, the show features the music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, and a book by Craig Lucas. Critically acclaimed, the production has seen great success since it’s opening at the Palace Theatre on Broadway in April 2015, after its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. It won four 2015 Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League Award for Best Musical, three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, and two Theatre World Awards. This production pays homage to its creation, yet adds such depth it feels entirely new. A cinema classic brought to stage in all the right ways!
Tackling a beloved classic movie and translating it to stage is no easy feat. Taking the outline of Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 American musical film inspired by the 1928 orchestral composition by George Gershwin, Wheeldon’s work is a prime example that art is ever evolving. A strong visual division lies between modern and traditional, as the characters on stage are clearly defined as two sides of a society trying to find its footing post war. The American characters choose not to return home after the war and find solace in new beginnings in the dreamy Parisian lifestyle and opportunity to live life to the fullest. The French characters seem to do the opposite. They attempt to maintain appearances and have their guard up since the war occurred on their doorstep with threats that were all too real to be over. Both groups seem to take very different viewpoints of a world destroyed by hatred and this is where art takes the forefront of this work. The visuals guide the audience through careful subtleties that blend various art periods together into one moving painting. Beautiful dreamy impressionist backgrounds blending with expressionist moments, while rococo art (a more classical style) is strongly contrasted to the abstract colors and work presented by the Americans. Some key examples of this are an Alexander Calder sculpture sits within the strong willed American Milo Davenport’s (Emily Ferranti) apartment, while the strapping former American solider Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) creates a visual design for a new ballet that mimics Piet Mondriaan’s work, particularly Composition II in Red, blue and Yellow (1930). An avant garde or radical movement shakes Paris out of the throws of war and into a promise of new beginnings.
In order to create such an abstract and art based theatrical performance, you need a strong team. The creative team for the production is comprised of Tony Award-winners Bob Crowley (set and costume designer) and Natasha Katz (lighting designer); Jon Weston (sound designer); 59 Productions (projection designer). The culmination of set, light, sound and visual sends this production to the heights. Sketched drawings projected on the back wall and layered scrims pulled to reveal colored sections to evoke a sunrise brought life onto the stage. Characters moods showcased through particular scenic elements and specifically directed gelled light. Movement was not shackled to the actors, but embedded into still projections through small movements like clouds passing or water gently pushing, which either created a real sense of space and time or completely removed it all together into an abstract atmosphere of emotion in heart-wrenching solos. From the first five minutes, this dramatic stylistic choice is evident as a baby grand sits center stage dwarfed by the silhouette of L’Arch De Triumph looming upstage. Narration begins and the audience is swept through the supporting story line of liberation day for France. Beautiful and powerful movements of set, sounds and light as the city awakes into a frenzy of life.
The extremely talented and seasoned Etai Benson (Adam Hochberg), McGee Maddox (Jerry Mulligan) and Nick Spangler (Henri Baurel) bring a wonderful mix of talent to the stage. The three juxtapose each other and their relationship with art and love. A funny sarcastic pianist, a classic all American painter and a secretly talented French singer give their own story of hope told through their art. A male bond formed out of the terrors of war reveals a rebirth in the human spirit. Maddox (Mulligan) woos with such contemporary fluidity in ballet along with moments of homage to Kelly’s legacy are sprinkled throughout the performance along with other stylistic details reminiscent of classic Hollywood films. The choreography by director Christopher Wheeldon and the dance arrangements by Sam Davis are so dynamic for such an iconic piece focused on dance. Through every sequence there is a small moment of movement that ties the work together and allows it to flow into every scene. And how would that movement be successful without music to guide it. The jam packed score of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS includes the songs "I Got Rhythm," "Liza," "'’S Wonderful," "But Not For Me," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," and orchestral music including "Concerto in F," "Second Prelude," "Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture" and "An American In Paris." Rob Fisher (musical score adaption, arrangement and supervision) alongside a plethora of extremely deserving supervisors, directors and conductors, excel at their craft! The musical would be nothing without the music, and to encompass George and Ira Gershwin’s music into a living breathing performance is stunning to experience. And a quick nod to the incredible vocal talent of Nick Spangler (Henri Baurel)! Such power and tone that leaves one feeling immensely emotionally attached to a character I once felt nothing for.
A love story filled with laughter in the city of light. If you are a fan of the film, this production extends the world Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron danced their way through. The world sits on the edge of a pin between the old and new, but one thing remains - art. Art is a vibrant expression of life and is meant to be celebrated through all its ever changing moods. For the fans of film and newcomers alike, let the music take you away to France and find love at this enchanting performance of “An American in Paris”.
Here only for a three week engagement!! Tickets are available at all Broadway In Chicago Box Offices (24 W. Randolph St., 151 W. Randolph St., 18 W. Monroe St. and 175 E. Chestnut), the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000 and online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
For more information about the tour, visit www.AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!