Chicago Theatre Review
A Gershwin-ner of a Show
An American in Paris – Broadway in Chicago
Two years ago this highly-anticipated stage version of the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical film classic burst upon Broadway. It has finally arrived in Chicago, albeit for a brief, three-week run. It is truly magnificent. It’s elegant, romantic, gorgeously produced and beautifully danced and sung. For anyone who adores movie musicals and old-fashioned, big, splashy theatrical productions, this is the show for you.
This adaptation is the fine work of talented playwright Craig Lucas, but the show’s splendor is pure George and Ira Gershwin. The show is almost a jukebox musical in the sense that the score represents some of the best of the brothers’ many fine compositions. It’s a triumph, as directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, in which every moment becomes a story told through music and movement. Supported by David Andrews Rogers’ finely conducted, richly sounding gifted pit orchestra, the production is a mellifluous masterpiece. Visually enhanced by Bob Crowley’s stunning costume and set designs, and artistically amplified by Natasha Katz’s dazzling lighting, and some unbelievable moving projections by 59 Productions, this National Tour is a feast for both the eyes and ears.
What we’re blessed with is actually a traditional, old-fashioned book musical. Lucas has simply fleshed out the thin plot of the Academy Award-winning film. He’s infused the libretto with an array of additional wise and witty characters to tell this story of love and art. Following the end of WWII, an American soldier named Jerry Mulligan decides to remain in Paris, hoping to nurture his career as a painter. By chance, he meets fellow ex-patriot, Adam Hochberg, a musical composer (modeled after George Gershwin) who’s also a fellow war veteran. Adam’s been secretly coaching Henri Baurel, the son of a wealthy French family, in his dream to become a nightclub singer/dancer. All three men imagine a better, more fulfilling future after the atrocities they’ve endured in the War.
Into their lives dances beautiful Lise Dassin, a modest, young shopkeeper, who harbors her own dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. Eventually each man discovers that he’s in romantic competition for the affections of Miss Dassin, a somewhat mysterious young woman with a secret past. To complicate matters, Jerry meets and becomes the boy toy of Milo Davenport, a strong-willed American philanthropist who enjoys lending her financial support to struggling artists. She happily sponsors Lise’s dance career, funds a ballet written especially for her by Adam and support’s Jerry’s pursuit of an artistic life. As expected, conflicts arise, secrets are revealed, friendships are mended and, with Adam conducting Lise’s ballet performance, the show ends happily.
As Jerry Mulligan, Magee Maddox (who shares the role on certain occasions with Ryan Steele) is boyishly handsome and dances like a dream. While he seems to have some difficulty with a couple of the songs, Maddox comes off well as a leading man. His leaps and turns are aerial born and he dominates every one of his choreographic number. He’s extremely well-matched by lovely, gifted singer/dancer Sara Esty, as Lise. This triple threat, with an emphasis on her smooth, athletic ballet moves, is pure poetry in motion. She, too, shares this demanding role with Leigh-Ann Esty and Caitlin Meighan at certain performances. But Ms. Esty’s sparkling joy is evident as her face lights up whenever she’s dancing with the man she loves. It’s as if the sun has risen over the Champs-Elysees. Both leading actors are wonderfully talented dancers and, together, they hold the audience in the palm of their hands.
Etai Benson is excellent and simply heartbreaking as Adam, a brilliant, yet insecure young composer looking for a career break and a chance at love. He, too, falls for Lise, creating conflict between his new friend Jerry and himself. Add into this mix the exquisite performance by Nick Spangler as Henri, a handsome, closeted young man who’s also drawn to Lise, a family friend. She’s mysteriously in debt to Henri and his parents (we later learn the reason for her gratitude) and accepts Henri’s halfhearted proposal of marriage. In addition, millionaire Milo Davenport, deliciously portrayed and sung by Emily Ferranti, has fallen for her protege, Jerry, although he innocently thinks she’s simply interested in helping further his artistic endeavors. The company is supported by a corps de ballet and honky tonk tappers who can’t be beat. They dress the stage with their talent, choreographic skill and unbridled energy.
For sheer entertainment, this wonderful show can’t be beat. It tells an unabashedly romantic story, set against the City of Lights, and made even more magical by the Gershwins’ lush score. This multi Tony Award-winning musical is sure to be embraced by every theatre fanatic, as well as all those devotees of classic film. It features superb choreography and singing, performed by a phenomenally talented cast and surrounded by gorgeous sets and costumes. Audiences are guaranteed to leave the theatre humming songs like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Who could ask for anything more? This is simply a Gershwin-ner of a production.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 25-August 13 by Broadway in Chicago at the Ford Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago.
Tickets are available at all Broadway in Chicago box offices, all Ticketmaster locations, by calling the BIC Ticket Line at 800-775-2000 or by going to www.BroadwayInChicago.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com