Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

An American in Paris
National Tour
Review by Garrett Southerland


Garen Scribner and Sara Esty
Photo by Matthew Murphy
The touring production of An American in Paris has just opened at the Durham Performing Arts Center, and what a beautiful opening it is. The audience finds a simple piano on an empty stage, softly lit from above, which is fitting since the truest star of the show is the music of George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. "An American in Paris" was first an orchestral piece, written in 1928, inspired by a trip that George Gershwin took to Paris, and it evokes the sounds and energy of the French capital in the twenties. That piece is the core of the 1951 film by the same name, joined by a handful of Gershwin songs. An American classic, An American in Paris starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, was directed by Vincent Minnelli, and won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. This musical adaptation opened on Broadway in 2015 and won four Tony Awards for lighting, scenic design, orchestrations, and choreography.

The story follows an American soldier and a French girl, who both long to find purpose and a place to belong in the aftermath of World War II. Paris itself is trying to return to normalcy after being occupied for four years by the Nazis. Jerry Mulligan (a dashing Garen Scribner direct from the Broadway company) has stayed in the City of Light after serving in the war. He's an aspiring artist who hopes to make a name for himself in this new world. Upon his arrival, Jerry sees a beautiful and mysterious French woman by the name of Lise Dassin. It is love at first sight, at least for Jerry, and their paths continue to cross. Jerry soon meets a pianist and up-and-coming composer by the name of Adam (portrayed with heartbreaking effect by Etai Benson). Adam is a war veteran himself, and with a significant injury he has become a more cynical man because of it. Adam introduces Jerry to Henri Baurel (played with nuance by Broadway vet Nick Spangler), an aristocrat who dreams of a career as a singer. Henri's family has had a particularly complicated experience of the war, giving the production additional depth. These men become fast friends, calling themselves the "Three Musketeers," not realizing that each has fallen in love with that same beautiful and talented ballet dancer, Lise. Brought to life by an amazingly talented Sara Esty, also from the Broadway company, Lise struggles with what her head and heart tell her.

To further complicate matters, Jerry, Adam, and Lise all become involved in an upcoming ballet produced by Henri's family. This is engineered by the wealthy and beautiful Milo Davenport (portrayed with beautiful truth by Emily Ferranti), who has taken a shine to Jerry and hopes that by championing his work, she might win his affection. This tangle of desire unfolds in developments typical of productions in the Gershwin era, with their standards as well as some rarities woven throughout.

Craig Lucas has done a fine job with the book of the new musical. It maintains most of the main points of the screenplay, but Lucas delves more deeply into the psychology of lives lost and lives broken by World War II, and he punches up the dialogue with some more modern humor. Director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon draws from his experience with the Royal Ballet and the New York City Ballet to create a moving masterpiece. His choreography weaves scenes and sets seamlessly together, at times calling to mind Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine, but again incorporating a modern sensibility. The first act finale, performed to the music of "Second Rhapsody" and "Cuban Overture," is reminiscent of a dream ballet of the likes of Agnes DeMille. Act two's opening feels a bit out of place; an absurd bit of distraction that doesn't advance the plot, "Fidgety Feet" feels like an unnecessary attempt to recapture the audience after the intermission. Other than that, the show stays quite true to the staging and themes of the film.

The award-winning sets by Bob Crowley and 59 Productions are a highlight of the show, featuring projections that create place as well as mood. As Jerry scribbles drawings into his note pad, the city of Paris comes alive, but only in black and white—that is, until Lise shows up, and a splash of color emanates from her and soon encompasses the surroundings. The costumes, also by Mr. Crowley, are evocative of the time period yet also flexible enough to allow the dancers to move.

An American in Paris celebrates both the American spirit and the wonder and majesty of one of the greatest cities in the world. With beautiful music by the Gershwins and the choreography of Mr. Wheeldon, this production looks effortless from start to finish.

An American in Paris is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC 27701 through January 8th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person, or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com.

Runtime: two hours, 30 minutes including a 20 minute intermission
Music and Lyrics: George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Book: Craig Lucas
Direction and Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Musical Score Adaption, Arrangement, and Supervision: Rob Fisher
Production Design: 59 Productions
Set and Costume Design: Bob Crowley
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: Jon Weston

Cast:
Jerry Mulligan: Garen Scribner
Lise Dassin: Sara Esty
Adam Hochberg: Etai Benson
Henri Baurel: Nick Spangler
Milo Davenport: Emily Ferranti
Madame Baurel: Gayton Scott
Monsieur Baurel: Don Noble
Returning Soldier: Barton Cowperthwaite
Returning Soldier's Wife: Caitlin Meighan
Mr. Z: Kylie Vaughn
Olga: Laurie Wells
Store Manager: Don Noble
Lise's Ballet Partner: Barton Cowperthwaite
Ensemble: Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Leigh-Ann Esty, Caitlin Meighan, Don Noble, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Lucas Segovia, Ryan Steele, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong, Blake Zelesnikar


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