An American in Paris continues its Paris run through Jan. 4, 2015. The musical will officially open on Broadway April 12.
The critics have begun filing their reviews. Playbill.com will continue to update our list as the reviews come in.
An American in Paris is settling down at the Théâtre du Châtelet
Wednesday night, the world premiere. This is the first musical adaptation of Vincente Minnelli’s film that was a winner of six Oscars, that’s meant to conquer Broadway, and the entire world.
One day of the year 1928, Gershwin went to a shop to avenue de la Grande-Armée to buy cab horns. He was planning to incorporate them in his “American in Paris”, the jazz symphony modeled on a stroll along the Champs-Elysées. Almost a century later, the horns are flying among the blue notes that bring his music a festive and inspiring lightness. Vincente Minnelli’s film (1951) tap dances on Montmartre’s pavement, in its vision of a Paris revisited by a painter’s brush and an awesome stage-performer, where Gene Kelly escaped from the MGM stables, discovering Leslie Caron’s mutinous grace. A crown made of six Oscars! Christopher Wheeldon, invited to direct and choreograph the first musical based on the movie, has proven his infinitely more delicate eyes and ears. His American in Paris is a true celebration, with twirling and sensibility that makes hearts beat and gives fidgety feet, the after-effects of Minnelli’s film. But with the colors of today; a tighter, more shaded and demanding quality than the big Hollywood film of 1951.
First, the libretto. Nervous, tensed, spread with good banters and led by characters who all have good reasons to be here. The curtain opens with the Liberation of Paris. Jerry Mulligan, an American G.I. who chooses to stay in Paris. His path crosses Lise, where he immediately falls in love. They meet again, randomly. She is a dancer. Milo Davenport, a rich philanthropist is founding a new ballet. Madame Baurel introduces her to the choreographer Mr. Z., whose grandiloquence reminds us of Serge Lifar. Lise will be the prima ballerina in the new creation; Adam will be the composer, Mulligan will design the sets. Here are two of Lise’s suitors. The third one is Henri Baurel, more attracted by his own kind at the cabaret than by women. His mother is divinely snippy, a “grande bourgeoise”. It’s her son’s clumsiness when he comes to declare his love to Lise that is one of the comic figures of the musical. The distribution is fantastic. Even the smaller roles are pleasing, like Mr. Baurel, a tamed and dominated male, or Olga, the elder authoritarian ballet mistress. This show, celebrating twists and turns, where everything revolves around dancing.
Gershwin runs the show
Just like the characters, the sets are following the movement, and play the spiritual card. Morris columns, benches, draperies, the counters of Galeries Lafayettes, balconies, everything is waltzing around, even the majestic Haussmannien buildings and the Seine, which cuddle waves from a couple of barges. Bob Crowley, the set designer, cultivates mischievously the life of the City of Lights. He captures, slides, suggests with no ambiguities without ever imposing, cutting or partitioning. All the dancing has to do is fit into a space, which is never restricted.
Wheeldon’s inspiration comes from his childhood, basked in Hollywood films from the times where everything could be turned into dancing, with the same fluidity and enchanted grace; from encounters to great escapes; from bohemia to cabaret, because immobilism had not yet been invented and life was nothing but impetuosity. Glissades, skirts flying in the wind, pirouettes around streetlights, sun shining through the benches, arabesques, jazz all along the way, a pinch of Charleston and pointes. Living is dancing, and for the viewer, it’s getting into the country of dreams, with eyes wide opened, with the gorgeous Leanne Cope from the Royal Ballet, a Leslie Caron look-alike, and with the dazzling Robert Fairchild, a New York City Ballet principal dancer, as Jerry Mulligan.
Gershwin is leading the ball. Sumptuously. His hits come one after another around the symphony “An American in Paris,” which only lasts eighteen minutes, the Concerto in fa, the 2nd Rhapsody for piano and an orchestra. The film’s hits like “I Got Rhythm” or “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and the famous ones like “The Man I Love,” and many others we rediscover with delight.
Next March, this show that singularly refreshes the musical genre will settle on Broadway. It has all the qualities to run for two-years, and go on a US tour and implant other companies in the world’s greatest cities.
Gershwin makes the Châtelet swing in An American in Paris.
Just like walking on cloud nine! The musical An American in Paris, performing at the Théâtre du Châtelet, flies on a little cloud of mobile sets. Three hours of whirlwind scene changes flies by, displaying touristic views of the capital, swinging around on a high-speed Franco-American carousel. All in English (with subtitles) but with a French accent, if you may! The fear of getting dizzy quickly disappears as it’s replaced by exhilaration, thanks to the golden reputation and Gershwin’s music, which warms you up in no time.
Driving this well-working mechanic, where even cast members turn themselves into classy professional movers, is British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Less known in France, he achieves a true miracle; by making the audience almost forget about the 1951 Vincente Minelli’s film starring Gene Kelly, while curiously enticing the desire to watch it again. It’s a hell of a pleasure.
This spectacular adaptation, the very first one, is not an exact replica of the movie. Any comparison is therefore unfitting, even though, even though… The musical is longer than the movie, which compelled Christopher Wheeldon to include Gershwin’s other music; it all magically works with such songs as “Concerto in Fa” and ”2nd Rhapsody”.
The surprising element mostly relies on the libretto changes, specially written by Craig Lucas. The playwright sets the story in 1945, right after the end of the Second World War, where the film was originally set in 1949. This element immediately twists the context, forcing a tragic note into the show. The Nazi flag falls down on stage immediately replaced by the French flag. The protagonist, Jerry Mulligan, is an artist and freshly demobilized soldier. He’s been deeply affected by the war, and charmed by the heroin, Lise. Lise is a young Jewish girl; her parents died while a family of the Resistance hid her during the conflict and who is meant to marry their son, Henri. Hence a more stated, but not really convincing, theme of “sacrifice out of duty.” Lise feels compelled to show the family that saved her gratitude by marrying Henri. A strong point in the story is when the trio of friends Jerry, Henri and Adam, the composer, who are all in love with Lise, comes forward.
Bravo to the star of the show, dancer Robert Fairchild (Jerry), who right away seals the deal with his jumps. If all leading roles measure up to the luxury of this production, this NYC Ballet principle dancer is truly holding the reins of the show, with a glamorous passion that carries us away. He is above all else a dancer-singer-actor of a high-flying level; three rather rare gifts that he seems to distribute with no second thought. Whatever he does, even in the worst technical difficulties, he handles the situation with disarming ease. His performance is in the best American tradition, and nonetheless still preserves a constant level of subtle emotion. He has this vivid enjoyment that virtuosity entails when turned into an intimate language.
First co-production between Broadway and Paris
Christopher Wheeldon has finally hit the jackpot for his first professional musical, and first-ever Broadway-Paris co-production. it was about ten years ago, when he had already been approached to direct An American in Paris. In 2005, he choreographed the final ballet from the film for the NYC Ballet. Today, he relies on the layers of extravagant scenes and numerous sets mounted on wheels. Painted sets and old fashion screens, sophisticated video projections that erect entire districts of Paris in only a few sprays of light... A dance studio turns into a big department store, the banks of the Seine spill over into a jazz club. All the artistic genres slide one after the other: realistic, impressionist, abstract, and in between this parade. Actors move along as they carry the set pieces away in the spiral of changes. The most frequent trick consist of putting side-by-side characters living in different spaces, creating a surprising Ping-Pong, in which the protagonists’ thoughts contract one another.
With a great deal of dancing, Wheeldon’s An American in Paris orchestrates an organic stream to move the plot forward. The choreographic writing – neo-classic ballet on points for the girls, with acrobatic accents for the men – is not pretending to revolutionize the genre. Accompanied by a live orchestra, the choreography fully assumes the part it’s supposed to play within a complex scene, which swings between locations, characters and atmospheres with a very sentimental manner to make arabesques speak.
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the cast is led by Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan, Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, Veanne Cox as Madame Baurel, Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, Brandon Uranowitz as Adam Hochberg and Max von Essen as Henri Baurel.
The company also includes Caitlin Abraham, Will Burton, Michael Cusumano, Attila Joey Csiki, Taeler Elyse Cyrus, Ashlee Dupré, Rebecca Eichenberger, Sara Esty, Laura Feig, Jennie Ford, Kurt Froman, Heather Lang, Dustin Layton, Nathan Madden, Gia Mongell, Candy Olsen, Rebecca Riker, Adam Rogers, Sam Rogers, Shannon Marie Rugani, Garen Scribner, Sam Strasfeld, Sarrah Strimel, Charlie Sutton, Allison Walsh, Scott Willis and Victor J. Wisehart.
An American in Paris, according to press notes, "transforms the timeless story of love in a city rebuilding from the heartbreak of World War II - into a new Broadway musical of hope, redemption and romance."
The creative team also includes Bob Crowley (sets and costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Jon Weston (sound) and 59 Productions (animation and projection design); the musical score is adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher with orchestrations by Christopher Austin, dance arrangements by Sam Davis and musical direction by Brad Haak. The associate director is Jacquelin Barrett, and the associate choreographer is Dontee Kiehn. Casting is by Telsey + Company/Rachel Hoffman.
An American in Paris is presented at Théâtre du Châtelet in English featuring the 26-member Broadway cast with a score including “I Got Rhythm,” “‘SWonderful,” “But Not For Me,” “Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away” and orchestral music including “Concerto in F,” “2nd Prelude,” “2nd Rhapsody” and “An American In Paris.”
The producers are Stuart Oken, Van Kaplan, Roy Furman, Stephanie McClelland, Darren Bagert, James Nederlander, Five Cent Productions, Michael Leavitt, Apples and Oranges Studios/Dominion Pictures, Roger Berlind/Arch Road, Simone Genatt Haft/Marc Routh, Tara Smith/Spencer Ross, Ed Walson/Peter May, Adam Zotovich/Celia Atkin, Eugene Beard/Julie Boardman/Kallish-Weinstein, Stuart Ditsky/Jim Herbert/Sandy Robertson, Suzanne Friedman/Independent Presenters Network/Wonderful Productions, The Leonore S. Gershwin 1987 Trust/DSM-FMP/Proctors, Harriet Newman Leve/Jane Dubin/Sarahbeth Grossman, Caiola Productions/Jennifer Isaacson/Raise the Curtain, by special arrangement with Elephant Eye Theatrical, Pittsburgh CLO and Théâtre du Châtelet.
View footage from rehearsals below: