Music and dance gorgeously come together in An American in Paris, which opened at the Palace Theatre last month. Set in the postwar city of light and based on the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly, this production is not a stage version but rather a brilliant re-invention that takes inspiration from George Gershwin’s colorful and very dance-able music and lyrics.
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (making his Broadway directorial debut), the show is filled with pieces that are beautiful and beautifully danced. A few have the pizzazz typically scene in Broadway crowd pleasers, but all are graceful and captivating. Wheeldon took a risk by casting two dancers, Robert Fairchild of New York City Ballet and Leanne Cope of the Royal Ballet, in the lead roles, as opposed to actors with decent dancing chops. They are not only dynamite dancers, but also have lovely singing voices and convincingly deliver their lines.
As the ex-G.I. Jerry Mulligan, Fairchild is charming and irresistible. When he soars across the stage, your eyes are unquestionably following him. And as the aspiring dancer Lise Dassin, Cope brings out the character’s youthfulness and anguish. Together, they are a breathtaking duo, particularly in the final ballet within the production, danced to Gershwin’s titular song.
Just as significant as Wheeldon’s choreography are the costumes and sophisticated set designs by Bob Crowley. From boats on the Seine to a vivid sunset to the stunning projections in the climactic ballet, Crowley has created a visually striking post-war Paris.
While dance and Gershwin’s music carry the production, the story line is boosted by Craig Lucas’s book, which is plenty witty, especially for Jerry’s pals (Brandon Uranowitz and Max von Essen, both excellent) along with the supporting characters performed by Veanne Cox and Jill Paice.
An American in Paris is an enchanting feast for the eyes. You’ll be swept up in the music and dancing until the very end, when the dancers stroll gracefully under a Parisian sunset.