by MIKE CHAIKEN
The original film “An American In Paris” was a Hollywood love letter to the City of Love and a classic musical that rightfully earned several Oscars, including Best Picture.
In many ways, for its time, “An American In Paris” was a perfect film with the king of Hollywood hoofing, Gene Kelly, leading the way with a charming performance, top notch dancing (capped off by the dream sequence ballet to close the film), and the gorgeous music composed by George and Ira Gershwin 30 years earlier.
Tinkering with perfection, especially translating it to another medium—such as a stage show—is always a little dicey
But the creative team behind “An America in Paris: A New Musical,” which came to the Bushnell in Hartford this week, took a gamble and it paid off handsomely.
The touring production I saw on Wednesday, Nov. 16 took me away to another universe for an evening, where each musical note, each dance step, each word, each moment was addictive.
For fans of dance, “An American In Paris” is an absolute feast for the eyes. This is a dance show, extraordinaire. The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon is exquisite. It’s complex. It’s mesmerizing. And it demonstrates how well dance can tell a story with movement.
The dancers made the choreography seem effortless. The choreography treated the dancers like notes in an orchestral show, sometimes moving in sync, sometimes in opposition, but the dancers rose to the occasion each and every time.
Wheeldon, who also served as director, also was a master of pace. The show is long but it doesn’t feel long. There is no moment in the show where it drags.
The show was built around the music of George and Ira Gershwin. And Rob Fisher did a lovely job arranging the songs. The musical score does great justice to these classic tunes and Fisher does a fabulous job in adding vibrance, both instrumentally and through the vocals. One piece of evidence of the success of the score is that it made me want to revisit the music of the Gershwins..
Craig Lucas, who wrote the book, let the story of “An American in Paris” evolve to reflect modern sensibilities. It recognized the inhumanity and stress of living in post-war Paris. The characters had many facets that made them feel more real.
The leads all were fabulous. Although Garen Scribner, who played the lead Jerry Mulligan, took on a role made famous by Gene Kelly, at no point during the performance did you see Kelly’s imprint on the role. Scribner made the role his own. The same is true for the other leads include Sara Esty as the love interest Lise Dassin, and Etai Benson (Adam Hochberg) and Nick Spangler (Henri Baurel)—Mulligan’s buddies and love rivals. Although the temptation was probably there to pay homage to the actors who made their roles famous, each performer made the characters their own. Their performances reflected the history that Lucas built for them in the new script.
Overall, “An American In Paris: A New Musical” was a rarity. It held your attention from beginning to end. It demonstrated great artistry in every facet of the performance. And it improved upon, and even made you forget about the original source material.
I give “An American in Paris: A New Musical” at The Bushnell in Hartford on Nov. 16 four out of four stars.
The show continues this week at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. For tickets, go to Bushnell.org