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An American In Paris

Review by Kathleen Campion
13 April 2015

Forget everything you remember about the 1951 Hollywood film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The first theatrical adaptation of that script, now at the Palace Theater on Broadway, changes everything.

The biggest change? Christopher Wheeldon, who directs, is by training, a choreographer — a wildly accomplished choreographer, to be sure. (Most recently he created the full-length, story ballet The Winter's Tale in London.) That said, Wheeldon has never before directed on Broadway. Kudos to the producers who took the chance. As to the doubters? Game over!

Singers and actors have their part to play here, but this is a dancer's show. Going to his strong suit, the ballet world, for his leads, Wheeldon plucked Robert Fairchild, a principal dancer with NYC Ballet to play Jerry Mulligan and Leanne Cope, of the Royal Ballet, to play Lise. He knew Fairchild to be an accomplished dancer, and he came to admire Cope's singular presence. Ultimately, he hired dancers whom he hoped could sing and act — a daring casting strategy.

Mr. Fairchild is, not surprisingly, a better dancer, (oh my, what a dancer!), than he is an actor. But, in this piece the dancing matters more.

You may not believe he is in love with the girl, but as he expertly lifts and caresses, curls into her, bends with her, leaps beside and in concert with her, you cannot take your eyes off the pair.

Ms. Cope has less acting and singing to do. She is exquisite in her movement and her execution when solo, but the two together rise to another level in the pas de duex.

This time, Craig Lewis, writing the book, opted for three young men, a painter, a composer, and a singer, to chase the beautiful French girl. Besides underscoring the broad redemptive role of art in the rebirth of France, the gambit offers lots of fresh opportunities with old classics. For example, the three suitors, who don't know they are in love with the same girl, sing "'S Wonderful" together, without irony.

Brandon Uranowitz (Adam) is one of these three, the composer, but (more important), our narrator. An American Jewish kid, fresh out of uniform, chooses, like Jerry Mulligan, to stay in Paris instead of going back to the States. He is the conscience of the piece. His tender "But Not For Me" breaks your heart as much as his irreverent asides leave you laughing. We are in his pocket.

The single most significant change is the time frame. The film was set in the early 1950s. Broadway's American in Paris starts grittier, in the immediate aftermath of the war. The lights still go out, food is still in short supply, and suspicion about collaborators still runs deep.

We start dark and march toward light. Visually the sets and costumes move from blacks and grays to antic reds and yellows. The sets start stark and become positively whimsical. I won't spoil it for you but there is just a taste of Straiges' and Ferren's artistry in Sunday in the Park With George here in set designer Bob Crowley's magic.

The movement changes from a time-stamped, Andrews Sisters' finger-wagging, wartime dancing to a dizzying conflation of "then" and "soon-to-be." The dances are progressively more sensual and stylish, sometimes right on the edge of gymnastic.

Another updating of the 1951 storyline is a gay subtext that presumably wouldn't have flown in the Hays Office days. At one point there is also a bald mention of Oscar Levant, who played Adam in the film. Levant was rumored to have been involved with George Gershwin, and the line got a self-conscious laugh.

There is nothing self conscious about An American in Paris. It's dazzling and noisy in the best sense of an American musical. At the same time it puts a canny, majestic lift beneath the patter and pas de deux, as Paris, is redeemed.

(Kathleen Campion)

"This gorgeously danced — and just plain gorgeous — production pays loving tribute to the 1951 movie, to the marriage of music and movement, and to cherished notions about romance that have been a defining element of the American musical theater practically since its inception."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Guiding his first musical, Wheeldon shows a vibrant vision and buckets of imagination, transforming the 1951 Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron film that inspires the show. He's also got a cast and design team at the top of their game."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"An airy, gentle caress of a show, 'An American in Paris' is a welcome oddity on Broadway."
Haley Goldberg for New York Post

"There's much gorgeous ballet to admire in director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's Broadway debut, set against attractive, painterly backdrops by Bob Crowley, but the overall effect is of a dance concert with a semiserious musical squeezed into the cracks."
David Cote for Time Out New York

"Beneath the considerable pizazz, Wheeldon conveys with grace and style the heartfelt romance and emotional colors that keep us enchanted until the last beautiful note has been sung."
Jennifer Farrar for The Associated Press

"Not only is Wheeldon's nuanced command of storytelling through dance front and center, the production also foregrounds a triple-threat revelation in NYC Ballet principal Robert Fairchild, who proves himself more than capable of following in the suave footsteps of Gene Kelly."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

"A dancer is a thing of beauty, and there is beaucoup beauty in director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's ravishing production of 'An American in Paris,' smartly but not slavishly adapted by Craig Lucas from the 1951 MGM movie."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

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