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S'wonderful: An American in Paris on Broadway

(Seen on 2/3/2016 on Broadway)

That voice in my head can’t wait to talk about this amazing show:

I went to see An American in Paris on a complete whim…and man, am I glad I did! I absolutely love the movie with Gene Kelly (which inspired this musical), so I had high expectations for this stage version. I mean, who could beat Gene Kelly? Broadway newbie Robert Fairchild gives him a run for his money, that’s for sure! Mr. Fairchild, principal dancer with the NYC Ballet since 2009, is Gene Kelly reincarnate. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true. He’s wonderfully chipper as Jerry Mulligan, but has an added layer of tortured ex-soldier underneath that happy-go-lucky exterior. I was incredibly impressed with Mr. Fairchild’s impeccable dance ability and vocal chops. He is possibly the best person to have taken on a Gene Kelly role.

Speaking of perfect people to take on these roles, let’s talk about the rest of the main cast. Leanne Cope as Lise is like watching an angel float across the stage…and then she opened her mouth! What a sweet and tender voice! Her chemistry with Mr. Fairchild was spectacular; her reluctance to love him, even though she knows she’s already fallen for him, was endearing. Their duet at the pier, “Liza,” was so much fun to watch- they looked like they truly fell in love. The lovable trio from the film, Adam Hochberg, Jerry Mulligan, and Frenchman Henri Baurel, are just as lovable on stage as the originals. The dynamic between the actors was absolutely perfect; filled with humor, terrible mistakes and misunderstandings, and reconciliation and brotherly love, it’s a wonderful friendship portrayed by these men.

Choosing to set the story right after World War II brought a new and interesting side to it that I adored. The original is entertaining, yes, but this stage version highlights the complications of human relationships and wartime healing without hitting you over the head with it. The opening number was so moving it brought me to tears- the cries of victory coupled with torturous moans of loss, the chance meetings, and the lingering fear even after war all as expressed through dance made each emotion very palpable. Bravo to director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for harnessing the power of dance to tell such a moving story.

Mr. Wheeldon’s direction made his vision for the show very clear. He chose to have Adam Hochberg, the dismal American composer played by Brandon Uranowitz, be our memory-guide as he tells the story of how Jerry meets Lise. I quite liked this form of narration. I also liked the new backstories given to Henri and Adam: Henri, a French Resistance fighter who hid the Jewish Lise from the Nazis during their occupation, and Adam a fellow ex-soldier like Jerry. These new revelations made Henri just as tortured as Jerry and Adam, and gave the actors a real sense of purpose for what they were pursuing throughout the show: trying to find happiness and sense in this topsy-turvy post-war Paris. I did think that having all three leading men fall in love with Lise was a little cliché, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a well-executed cliché. Mr. Uranowitz’s rendition of “But Not For Me” was so heart-wrenching that I actually cried. Mr. von Essen’s part in “Who Cares?” was equally touching. By adding depth to each character, the stage musical feels fuller and more resolved. I think it’s actually an improvement from the film version.

On the whole, I loved every minute of An American in Paris. The transitions between scenes were so smooth, the projections were magical, and the costumes were beautiful. It was able to maintain the integrity of the original story despite having changed a lot of things. George and Ira Gershwin’s music is timeless, as is the choreography created for this production. If you’re looking for a moving love story peppered with humor (with lines like Henri’s, “You’re playing a prick on me!”) and beautiful dance sequences, you’ll love An American in Paris.

© 2016 by That Voice in my Head - Meagan Finlay

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