Thursday, June 15, 2017

"An American in Paris" Broadway Tour at the Ordway Center

The 2015 four-time Tony-winning Broadway musical An American in Paris is currently touring the country, stopping at St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for just one week. Based on the classic 1951 movie of the same name, this is a movie-to-musical adaptation that makes sense. The film itself (which I admittedly have never seen) was inspired by music, George Gershwin's "jazz-inspired symphonic poem" An American in Paris, and is filled with several other of Gerswhin's songs (with lyrics by Ira Gershwin) and dancing. Lots of dancing. The stage version (with book by Craig Lucas and direction/choreography by Christopher Wheeldon) has slightly adapted the story, added and removed Gerswhin songs, and thereby turned the movie into a thoroughly enjoyable dance musical. I've heard that the reason to see this show is the dancing, but I found a few more reasons to see it. Read on to find out.

Ten reasons to see An American in Paris:
  1. Dancing!
    The Tony-winning choreography, as performed by this incredibly talented ensemble of trained dancers, is simply sublime. A mix of jazz and ballet, it's not just dancing that's beautiful to look at, but dancing that is emotive and tells a story. The opening number provides all of the necessary exposition to the story (similar to the last dance musical seen on the Ordway stage, West Side Story). In this case we're introduced to a couple of American ex-pats living in Paris just after the end of WWII and their French friends and neighbors. The plentiful dance numbers throughout the show continue to move the story along and define the characters, although some of them are just dancing for dancing's sake.
  2. Music
    The classic Gerswhin tunes from the American Songbook (including "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," "S'Wonderful," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me") sound better than ever with Tony-winning orchestrations played by a 13-piece pit orchestra.
  3. Set
    The Tony-winning scenic and lighting design will transport you to a dreamy romanticized Paris, with liberal use of video and projections on scrims, backdrops, and moveable set pieces (set design by Bob Crowly, lighting design by Natasha Katz).
  4. Story
    The sweet story involves a love pentagon, and although this unfortunately leaves three likeable characters out in the cold, it's an interesting enough story to tie the dancing together. I wasn't completely sold on the couple we were supposed to root for, army vet Jerry and aspiring ballerina Lise, but I'm always one to root for the underdogs (charming American composer Adam, wealthy American socialite Milo, and rich Parisian Henri who wants to be a performer).
  5. Comedy
    There are plenty of laughs to be had in the mostly light-hearted story, many of them thanks to Henri's uptight but hilarious mother Madame Baurel (and a spot-on performance by Gayton Scott).
  6. This cast!
    The entire cast is great and includes some true triple threats. It goes without saying that leads McGee Maddox and Sara Esty (both trained ballet dancers) dance like a dream, separately and especially together in the final number, but they can also sing and act. McGee starts off slow but finds the passion towards the end, and Sara has a Cristin Milioti-like charm. Etai Benson is appealing and adorkable as Adam, perhaps my favorite in the cast, making me wish he was the one that got the girl (for real, not just in song). And Emily Ferranti makes Milo more sympathetic than perhaps she's meant to be, a character that deserves better than she gets.
  7. Costumes
    The 1940s period costumes are absolutely luscious, and still allow for the dancers to move well in them. I'm particularly smitten with Milo's entire wardrobe that includes not one but two tea-length dresses with matching shrugs (costume design by Bob Crowly).
  8. Classic
    The is your chance to see a classic American film come to life before your eyes.
  9. Escapism
    In the play, Adam says something like, "if an artist has the power to make people happy, why deprive them of that?" Not all art can or should be escapism, we also need our art to actively take part in our society. But in an increasingly violent and divided world, we all could definitely use a little temporary escapism into a dreamy world of dance.
  10. Did I mention the dancing?
    Enough said.
An American in Paris continues at the Ordway through June 18 (discount tickets available on Goldstar).

photo by Matthew Murphy