Theater Review: ‘An American in Paris’

A glorious night of Gershwin and dance
July 15, 2015 Updated: July 15, 2015

NEW YORK—This is the first Broadway outing for “An American in Paris,” based on the classic film directed by Vincent Minnelli and starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. Adding to the significance of the work, the musical enjoyed a very successful out of town opening in Paris.

The story portrays the saga of an American soldier who stays in Paris after World War II to paint and finds the girl of his dreams. But she comes with her own complications.

She is Lise Dassin played by the lovely elfin dancer Leanne Cope, from the U.K.’s Royal Ballet. Lise, like Jerry Mulligan (played by Robert Fairchild from the NYC Ballet) is perfectly cast.  Both leads are not only beautiful dancers but sing and act as well. The star-crossed, but oh-so-romantic lovers could be better enacted by these performers who hit homeruns.

The marvelous dancers Lise Dassin and Robert Fairchild play the romantic pair in
The marvelous dancers Lise Dassin and Robert Fairchild play the romantic pair in “An American in Paris.” (Angela Sterling)

Lise is Jewish and is committed to Henri Baurel, (well played and sung by Max von Essen) who has known Lise since his parents hid her from the Nazis during the war. He is a nightclub performer, but his wealthy parents plan for him to take over their successful garment business.

Henri’s mother, Madame Baurel (Veanne Cox) has a droll sense of humor that brings welcome comic relief to a very tense story.

The lush Gershwin score and stunning choreography by first-time Broadway director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon.
Jerry is discovered by a wealthy patroness Milo Davenport (well played by Jill Paice), who has her eyes set on more than his art.

The Oscar Levant character, Adam Hochberg, (Brandon Uranowitz) takes a different turn from the film. He is friendly to Jerry and Henri, but becomes a disappointed suitor to Lise. He finds his niche in composing the Gershwin rhapsody.

Another change from the film is a somewhat bizarre moment when Jerry Americanizes Lise’s name and bursts forth with a Gershwin tune of “Liza, Liza,” surely added due to an attitude of “I can do anything if I have the Gershwin’s family’s permission.”

Robert Fairchild in a musical adapted from the 1951 Gene Kelly film "An American in Paris." (AP/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Angela Sterling)
Robert Fairchild in a musical adapted from the 1951 Gene Kelly film “An American in Paris.” (AP/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Angela Sterling)

Despite this moment, the lush Gershwin score and stunning choreography by first-time Broadway director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon make for an exciting, unique evening of theater. 

If the show is lacking anything, it is the pizzazz of a Broadway pro like Gene Kelly. However, there was only one of him, and there is plenty to admire here.

Sets and costumes by Bob Crowley, lighting by Natasha Katz, and sound by Jon Weston, book by Craig Lucas, score by Rob Fisher, orchestrations by Christopher Austin, and musical direction by Brad Haak, add to the wonderful choreography and talented cast.

It is a rare treat to see the quality and quantity of dance, as well singing and acting that is presented here, and on the night I attended, the 1740 patrons at the Palace Theatre rose to their feet in appreciation for a well-deserved standing ovation.

“An American in Paris”
Palace Theatre
564 Broadway
Tickets: 212-730-8200, or AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Open run

Nanci Callahan is the founder and managing director of the West Side Cultural Center.

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