Rob Reviews "An American in Paris"
Growing up, I was one of those kids that could not get enough entertainment in my life. I would take in any form that I could, but due to the fact that we were not monetarily rich in any way, most of what I took in was courtesy of my television set or in a movie theater. On the weekends, there would always be a barrage of older films on television, especially in the afternoons. Whether it was “Tarzan Theater,” westerns, or just all-time classics, the list was endless. I also very vividly remember the time slot that was set aside for the old musicals, where I would be amazed by the style and grace of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly, and some of the best dancers of the twentieth century, whose style still influences today’s generations of performers. “An American in Paris” was one that would play quite a bit, and the fact that it was the Best Picture winner for 1951 probably helped its number of showings. Featuring Gene Kelly and the debut of Leslie Caron along with the wonderful music of George and Ira Gershwin, it is the story of a man who is discharged from the Army after World War II and decides to stay in Paris to make a life as an artist instead of heading home. He meets up with another American aspiring to be a composer and a local “rich boy” that wants to become a famous stage performer who form a friendship that would be tested when they find out that two of them have fallen in love with the same girl, a local ballet dancer named Lise.
I was surprised to find out that it was not turned into a stage production until 2015, having about an eighteen month run on Broadway, followed by a national (and international) touring company after four Tony Awards, three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, and even a Grammy nomination. It has now made its way to Music Hall at Fair Park in Dallas, running through February 12th.
In the production I was able to see, the title role of Jerry Mulligan was played by Garen Scribner, with Lise played by Sara Esty, both of whom played the roles in the Broadway production. (I write this because the sure demand on these roles require to have more than one performer to play the roles on the longer runs.) Scribner is absolutely amazing, channeling Kelly himself not only in mannerism but also in style. Given that he and Esty have been playing these roles for quite a while is evident in their chemistry on stage, but make no mistake, they are both seasoned veterans of dance, and it shows. There were moments when I was looking for wire work due to the pure grace and fluidity of Etsy’s performance, and with probably the least amount of dialogue in the main cast, she allows her dancing to do more talking than anyone else. It dared me not to take notice in a way that did not flirt with bravado or asking “too much?”. The sequence where the title song is played alone simply took my breath away with its scope and daring amount of choreography, which the cast itself takes on fearlessly and with razor-sharp precision. Combined with the beautiful use of technology and stage design masterfully done by Natasha Katz and Bob Crowley, there were moments where my brain was almost fooled into thinking I was watching the film itself in a room with a bunch of other people. This also holds true with the purely wonderful chemistry shown between Scribner and his male co-leads Etai Benson as Adam Hochberg, the other American, and Nick Spangler as Henri Baurel, who really worked the range of emotions that each of their characters go through with absolute conviction and a visible drive to show their performances as a true team and not three individuals.
And don’t think the supporting cast is anything but brilliant as well. Emily Ferranti’s portrayal as Jerry’s kinda-girlfriend, Milo Davenport, captures the essence of the character that really helps put the framework around the time that it is set in that I have no doubt makes Nina Foch herself look down from the heavens with the biggest smile she could muster. Her performance has a level of comfort that is rare in that it gives the audience a sense of comfort with her, as if they have not known her for years, but have known Milo herself as a staple at their social events. With great turns by Gayton Scott and Don Noble as Henri’s parents and a SOLID ensemble, there is just nothing bad I can say here.
There is also a bold choice in the storytelling itself. This is not really a run-of-the-mill musical in the fact that there are chunks of the story that are told without dialogue through more ballet choreography. This musical does for the absolute beauty of ballet what musicals like “42nd Street” does for tap. It is one of those productions that refuses to let its featured style fade into obscurity by delivering a presentation that will stay with you long after you leave the theater. Even if you do not live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, it is more than worth your time to find out when “An American in Paris” comes to your area.