An American in Paris the four-time Tony-winning 2015 Broadway musical, onstage at TPAC’s Jackson Hall October 31-November 5, quite simply stated might just be the most gorgeous classical choreography-filled musical of all time.
Harkening back to the mid-century film tat inspired it, this new staging feels like an old fashioned traditional musical. It’s your typical boy meets girl, boy meets girl, boy meets girl love story. One problem is…there’s three boys and one one girl! Directed and choreographed for the stage by Christopher Wheeldon (he won one of the aforementioned Tonys for choreography while receiving an additional nomination for direction), the show fully embraces the fleshed-out storytelling and character development of Vincente Minelli’s direction of the original film version. Wheeldon also channels and somehow magically expands upon the movie’s etherial, provocative and always engaging choreography. That’s no small feat, considering the 1951 film featured choreography conceived by legendary dance man and the movie’s lead actor, Gene Kelly.
An American in Paris has an interesting origin story. Many are familiar with the beloved movie, which, in additional to being directed by Minnelli and starring Kelly, co-starred the exotically captivating Leslie Caron. But did you know the film itself was inspired by a jazz-filled instrumental piece written by George Gershwin in 1928? In fact, when Minnelli directed the film adaptation, he and Kelly incorporated the tune into the film’s climactic near-twenty minute dances sequence.
Thankfully Wheeldon chose to honor that origin by choosing to also include the piece near the play’s end in what must categorically be the most enchanting seventeen minutes of blissful choreography set to music without the benefit of lyrics or dialogue in the history of musical theatre.
That’s not to say the show doesn’t have its share of brilliant song moments. To the contrary. The show definitely benefits from having a handful of songs lifted from the original film, including Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, and my all-time personal favorite, ’S Wonderful, as well as the Act 2 pièce de résistance, I’’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise and a dozen more George and Ira Gershwin tunes previously featured in other works that now find their place amongst the musical’s soundtrack and score.
Admirably filling the tap shoes of the film’s star, in the role of Jerry Mulligan, the titularly reference American, is McGee Maddox. Classically trained in ballet, Maddox not only dances the dance, the sings the songs with charm and delight. Maddox’s confident yet wishful performance of I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck, another Gershwin gem (originally featured in 1937’s Shall We Dance as performed by yet another song and dance legend, Fred Astaire), nicely sets up the show’s inevitable pairing of Maddox’s Jerry and the above alluded to Lise.
Speaking of Lise, Allison Walsh is the stuff of which dreams are made. As Lise, with her feisty raven-colored pixie haircut, bright eyes and alabaster complexion, Walsh is stunning. Add to that the fact that she was part of the Broadway cast as an ensemble member and Lise alternate and you’ve got your leading lady. Her performance of the ever-hopeful The Man I Love tugs at the audiences heart-strings, to my mind reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn’s emotion-filled Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Solo songs aside, it’s when Maddox and Walsh join forces on the dance floor that truly give An American in Paris its most gorgeous moments. Just magical. I surely can’t be the only person in the audience who, just for a split second, just as the two finally realize they’re made for each other, almost stood and applauded. It’s just THAT good.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Like any clever musical based on a mid-century tune and dance filled film, you have to have antagonist to the inevitable pairing. To that end, Ben Michael and Matthew Scott provide options for Walsh’ Lise in the form of a well-bred Frenchman named Henri and a awkwardly sweet war veteran turned ivory tickler named Adam, respectively.
Michael’s Henri is the quintessential upper-crust fellow who wants what he wants and he wants Lise…well, his parents want him to want her, so therefore he thinks he does. Adding a bit of fun to the part, he also secretly wants to be a famous song and dance man in America. He’s got a young Kelsey Grammar air about him.
That dream of stardust leads him to partner with Scott’s Adam who agrees to secretly coach his musical abilities. Scott’s Adam also serves as the show’s narrator. Interestingly, there’s something about his voice that reminded me of Gene Kelly, but with a touch of Donald O’Connor (Kelly’s on-screen pal in Singin’ in the Rain…but I digress). Michael and Scott’s scenes provide much of the show’s comedic moments interspersed between the romance and dance. Together with Maddox, Michael and Scott shine like triple-triple threats when the trio team for the aforementioned ’S Wonderful and I Got Rhythm and the show’s finale, They Can’t Take That Away from Me.
Of course it’s not only the boys wanting the girl. Even the stunning Lise has competition for Jerry’s heart in the form of Milo Davenport. In spite of the name, Milo is a woman, a very successful American woman who has her sites set on Jerry. Kirsten Scott, who’s starred in such Broadway successes as Follies, Jersey Boys and Big Fish is heaven as Milo, stealing every scene she’s in. Like her castmates, Scott gets her share of memorable Gershwin moments thanks to tunes like Shall We Dance and Who Cares? (from The Gershwin’s lesser-known 1932 stage musical Of The I Sing). But it’s the on-stage teaming of Scott and Scott (are you just now noticing that two of the show’s co-stars share a last name…no coincidence….they’re married in real life!) for But Not For Me that provides yet another of the show’s truly gorgeous moments. I’ll admit it, my eyes began to sweat a bit during this number.
I could go on and on and gush about each and every tune, but I’ll end that thought by mentioning Fidgety Feet. Such a cute addition to the musical. What a lovely nearly forgotten piece of happiness.
Heck, even the set and costuming of An American in Paris are musical and magical. Both splendidly designed by Bob Crowley, they too become characters in the show. The flowing lines of the period costumes as the company moves across the stage direct the audiences eye across the stage. While the change of set pieces is always perfectly timed and directed so as not to interfere with the action on-stage, even the speed and movement in which the set’s large panels are turned and repositioned seems choreographed as members of the ensemble appear to effortlessly dance the set from spot to spot.
From a can’t miss Gershwin-filled score to a company brimming with ballet-trained dancers and exquisite voices to costumes and sets that bring the city of light alive on stage, An American in Paris is indeed building a stairway to paradise with each and every stop on the tour.
A select number of tickets to the remaining shows in Nashville at TPAC’s Jackson Hall are still available. Click Here for more information.
Can’t make it to Nashville? Not to worry, the tour has several remaining dates through summer 2018 with stops from Sacramento to Providence and Ontario to Naples. Click Here for a full list of tour dates and to purchase tickets. Be sure to check out An American in Paris, as well as following the company of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
TPAC continues its current Broadway season with LES MISERABLES November 14-19, JERSEY BOYS January 9-14, THE KING AND I January 30-February 4,THE ILLUSIONISTS February 16-18, CABARET February 27-March 4, WICKED March 28-April 22, WAITRESS June 5-10 and LOVE NEVER DIES: THE PHANTOM RETURNS June 19-24. Click Here for tickets or more information. You can also follow TPAC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.