Flawless Ballet Performances Reign In Gershwin Musical Masterpiece
Reviewed by Tom Jones
March 10, 2017
When Mary Poppins arrives on stage, she is helped with wires holding her up. Dancers in “An American in Paris” need no wires, as sheer grace and athleticism have them literally flying through the air. Garen Scribner as Jerry Mulligan and Sara Esty as Lise Dassin are both incredible in the brilliant production now on stage at the Buell Theatre in Denver. Lots of adjectives are in order, as this performance is a must-see. Now known as “An American in Paris – a New Musical.”
Loosely based on the 1951 film, the stage version opened in New York in 2015 with tremendous reviews. It went on to win four Tony Awards including those for choreography, lighting, orchestrations, and scenic design. This is George and Ira Gershwin’s love letter to Paris. The movie starred Gene Kelly as the American serviceman who decides to remain in Paris following World War II. He meets and falls in love with a young French girl, Lise. Garen Scribner takes the role of Jerry in the touring company production, with Sara Esty as Lise. They are wonderful to watch and wonderful to hear.
The movie story has been altered, but the basic charm remains intact. Sub plots concerning the difficult life in Resistance Movement against the Nazi regime, and challenges of resuming a more normal life following the war are brought to light. It is when the performers are dancing, however, that the show shines. There can’t be anything more exciting anywhere in Colorado this month — maybe for the entire year.
Composer Ira Gershwin fell in love with Paris early on, and composed the ballet sequence music in 1928. In the current stage version there is dismay that the “City of Lights” had lost its glow during four years of Nazi occupation during the War. Jerry Mulligan and his pals Adam and Henri, set about to change that mood from darkness to light by creating a glorious ballet.
That Gershwin music is the show’s foundation, augmented with scenic designs that succeed in capturing the beauty of Paris. I first visited Paris when I was 20 years old. There was a magic to the city that remains with me. I’ve been back many times in the ensuing years, and still marvel at the beauty the city exudes. Especially in the First Act, the charm of the city was so visually exciting that I felt I was back in “my” Paris of 60 years ago. The set becomes a character of its own importance, as it is so active that it needs its own choreography.
The movie concludes with the Gershwin’s lush ballet score. On film, the 17-minute ballet used stylized images of various French artists paintings as sets. On stage, the ballet is set in modern art abstraction, and it works beautifully. There is not a weak link in the entire cast. Scribner and Esty are sheer enchantment – as is the entire show. Etai Benson, Nick Spangler, and Emily Ferranti are all very good in supporting roles.
The Broadway production closed last October, and a US national tour opened in Boston that same month. It is this tour that is wowing Colorado audiences at the Buell. A London production is set to begin performances this month. The idea of creating a stage production of the famed movie has languished for years, and has now surfaced as a true marvel on its own.
Composer Gershwin also wrote “Porgy and Bess,” “Rhapsody in Blue” and many concert pieces before dying of a brain tumor when he was 39 years old. His lyricist brother, Ira, outlived the composer by 45 years. Some of their most famous compositions are included in “An American in Paris” stage production, including “I Got Rhythm,” “S Wonderful,” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me. “
“An American in Paris – A New Musical” is a truly beautiful show – the music, the sets, and the choreography leave the audience breathless (and standing) for the heartfelt and lengthy ovation.
An American in Paris – A New Musical
On stage at the Buell Theatre in Denver March 8 to 19, 2017
1350 Curtis Street, Denver, CO 80202