Thursday, May 14, 2015

Margin Notes: An American in Paris

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope as Jerry and Lise.
Photo by Angela Sterling.
An American in Paris

Seen on: Wednesday, 5/13/15.
My grade: B. Lovely ballet, a story I could take or leave.

Plot and Background
Three new friends in post-war Paris - the American artist Jerry, the Jewish American composer Adam, and the textile heir/would-be nightclub singer Henri - are all in love with dancer Lise, though none of them knows it. Lise herself feels an attraction for Jerry, but also feels beholden to Henri and his family for their protection of her during the war. As all prepare for an upcoming ballet that will feature Lise's debut starring role, secrets are revealed and loyalties questioned. This production, inspired by the 1951 Gene Kelly film, originally played at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris last year, where it ran about half an hour longer.

What I Knew Beforehand
I remember somewhat the film on which it is based (Gershwin songs, Gene Kelly singing with children, a dream ballet, yes? Yes) and had heard this production was stellar.


Play: I think the show got a bit overhyped for me, unfortunately, and I respected the craft in the show more than I invested emotionally in the story of it. But let me go back a pace. A large part of the show is told in ballet - the two leads are ringers, which helps tremendously - and that is pure loveliness. Wonderfully staged and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon among the fluid set pieces, the show is never more captivating than in its dances. However, the story itself, fleshed out a bit by Craig Lucas from the film, never quite captures the heart. The romance of Lise with any of the three gentlemen isn't all that interesting. The story, indeed, is at its strongest when focusing on the three men together. Their varying perspectives - romantic optimism, dry melancholy, and a mix of denial and suppressed suffering - paint a fair portrait of a city recovering from Nazi occupation and a devastating war. And their different approaches to love and what it means could make for a very good play, if it weren't trapped within all the rest of the musical going on around it.

Cast: The other interesting aspect of the three men are the different talents each performer brings to the show, dancing, acting, singing, etc. It's hard to look away from Robert Fairchild's Jerry when he starts dancing; he moves with such grace and confidence (his singing is tolerable, his acting adequate). Brandon Uranowitz's Adam has the real pathos of the show - as well as the real comedy - and brings an earnest yet wry tone to the proceedings (it should also be noted that his character has a pronounced limp, thus cutting him off rather distinctly from being able to participate in the defining characteristic of the show and its two lead performers. They've made him the other in every sense). Well, every sense but one - Max von Essen's Henri is an overtly closeted homosexual in the show, which von Essen treats with a good mix of comedy and repression. But where he shines is in his glorious tenor voice, put to excellent use with all the Gershwin tunes rampaging about. Leanne Cope is excellent as Lise, dancing beautifully and weightlessly, and carrying her character's many burdens with poise. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the always-excellent comedic genius Veanne Cox as Henri's mother. Every line of hers is delivered perfectly.

Design: Bob Crowley's set design is truly lovely - a mix of rolling panels of wall or mirror, pieces of Paris, boats in the river - and makes a perfect marriage with the projection design of 59 Productions (seriously, when are we getting a Tony category for Projections? It's sorely needed at this point), all lights and sparkling water, Paris rising on the horizon, drawings of a dancing Lise in each man's imagination. Crowley's costume work is mostly predictable, though he does have fun with the final ballet costumes, block colors done to match the set, all meant to be designed by the budding artist Jerry. It's fun, but it's still not as interesting as the dance going on.


Running: Now playing at Palace Theatre - Opened: April 12, 2015.
Category: musical
Length: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including intermission.

Creative Team

Book: Craig Lucas
Music: George Gershwin
Lyrics: Ira Gershwin
Director & Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon
Designers: Bob Crowley (Set & Costume), Natasha Katz (Lighting), Jon Weston (Sound), 59 Productions (Projections), Christopher Austin (Orchestrations), Don Sebesky and Bill Elliott (Additional Orchestrations), Rob Fisher (Musical Score Adaptation, Arrangement, and Supervision), Sam Davis (Dance Arrangements), Todd Ellison (Musical Supervision).
Cast: Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Veanne Cox, Jill Paice, Brandon Uranowitz, Max von Essen, Caitlin Abraham, Will Burton, Attila Joey Csiki, Michael Cusumano, Taeler Cyrus, Ashlee Dupre, Rebecca Eichenberger, Sara Etsy, Laura Feig, Jennie Ford, Kurt Froman, Heather Lang, Dustin Layton, Nathan Madden, Gia Mongell, Candy Olsen, Rebecca Riker, Adam Rogers, Sam Rogers, Shannon Rugani, Garen Scribner, Sam Strasfeld, Sarrah Strimel, Charlie Sutton, Allison Walsh, Scott Willis, Victor J. Wisehart.

Robert Fairchild, Brandon Uranowitz, and Max von Essen as Jerry, Adam, and
Henri. Photo by Angela Sterling.

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