The touring production of the Tony-winning Broadway musical, packed with Gershwin tunes and Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, is at the Paramount in Seattle through May 14.
It’s wonderful, it’s marvelous, it’s magnifique that the stage musical “An American in Paris” is spreading bliss at the Paramount Theatre through Sunday, May 14.
The classy touring version has a short run in Seattle, so take note, fans of the same-titled Gene Kelly movie, dance aficionados, and anyone else susceptible to the allure of Gershwin love duets and Seine-side pas de deux between lovers.
And for those who would reflexively file this superior entertainment in the “dated” category, reconsider. Like the 1951 Oscar-winning film, which it is very freely based on, this “American in Paris” is visually inventive, comic as well as romantic and chock-a-block with visual delights and talented performers. And it has a new book by contemporary playwright Craig Lucas that goes beyond the simpler screenplay to evoke shadows looming over mid-1940s Paris as well as the sense of brightness emerging from behind the dissipating clouds of war.
‘An American in Paris’
Through May 14, Paramount Theatre, Seattle; tickets from $30 (ticketmaster.com).
Best of all, this acclaimed 2015 Broadway production (nominated for 12 Tony Awards, and winner of four) floats along on a tide of dance, brilliantly staged by director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon on Bob Crowley’s color-drenched sets, costumes and scenic projections.
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As in the film, the female lead Lise (charmer Sara Esty) is, like Leslie Caron in the movie version, a sweet-faced gamine who swiftly rises from shop girl to prima ballerina. Three men are enamored with her, but one roots the most for Jerry (a robust yet elegant McGee Maddox) — the handsome ex-G.I. and aspiring painter who can make tours jetés, lifts, high leaps and pirouettes look entirely natural for a seemingly “regular” guy who’s never stepped up to a barre.
The versatile Kelly’s fortes were tap and jazz dancing, and of course he was a swell partner with Caron in his arms. But there’s no doubt National Ballet of Canada luminary Maddox and Esty are superbly trained classical dancers. They also easily slip in and out of the many movement styles (modern, soft shoe, cheek-to-cheek) that Wheeldon works seamlessly into the choreographic flow.
What’s more they have chemistry, and can credibly act their roles and sing them — and oh what a score at their disposal! George Gershwin’s masterful symphonic pieces “Concerto in F” and “An American in Paris” suffuse some scenes. But also plopped nicely into the quadrangular love story are peerless George and Ira Gershwin standards (“I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful”) and lesser-known gems like “Fidgety Feet,” “Who Cares?” and “Liza.”
It is a pleasure simply watching the production swirl along so smoothly. Lucas deepens the movie role of narrator and Jerry’s pianist sidekick Adam (Etai Benson), originated by Oscar Levant, making him a wounded wisecracker prone to post-combat existential blues. There’s a new hint of closeted homosexuality in Henri (Nick Spangler), Lise’s fiancé and (here) an aspiring nightclub singer.
Wheeldon balances the intimate scenes more faithful to the film (like those featuring Jerry’s American patron/lover, played by Emily Ferranti) with glorious group numbers performed by a large ensemble.
Kelly’s masterful 17-minute dream ballet in the film had dozens of sets in the style of famous French painters, scores of performers, and in today’s cash, cost about $4 million to shoot.
It would be near-impossible to reproduce live. And anyway, Wheeldon has his own idea: a premiere ballet with visuals bearing Jerry’s neo-cubist designs. Tucked into this diversion is Lise’s dreamy fantasy of a love pas deux with Jerry — tender, simply staged and breathtaking.
If the show leads you to Kelly’s Oscar-winning movie, that’s a gift. But like the best Broadway musicals spun off classic films, it excels on its own terms — and establishes Wheeldon as a natural heir to Broadway ballet lions like George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Twyla Tharp.