Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
An American in Paris is rapturous, using dance to plumb deeper emotions than the irresistibly fun Crazy for You. Director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has staged the production as if it were an evening-long ballet that shifts from one setting to the next, aided by Bob Crowley's sculptural set and deliciously detailed costumes, Natasha Katz' lighting design, and the scenic projections by 59 Productions.
Unlike the Academy Award-winning 1951 film that inspired it, An American in Paris goes beyond romance to examine the impact of World War II on individuals and the city. In 1945, Paris is emerging from the years of Nazi occupationbeautifully conveyed through projections showing the cityscape as seen by G.I. and painter Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), which begin as line drawings in black, white, and gray shading and gradually gain colorand Craig Lucas' book follows five people trying to find their place.
Mulligan has decided that devoting himself to art will help him stop thinking about the cruelty of war. Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott), composer and wounded veteran, is drawn to hopelessness and cynicism, including the most lugubrious rendition of "I Got Rhythm" one can imagine. Henri Baurel (Ben Michael), son of a wealthy French industrialist, secretly dreams of life as a cabaret performer (similar to Crazy for You's dancing banker, Bobby Child). Their lives are complicated by the arrivals of Lise Dassin (Allison Walsh), an enigmatic ballet dancer, and Milo Davenport (Kirsten Scott), an American heiress.
Wheeldon demonstrates his way with grand choreographic gesturesin the crowded department store where Lise works, at Milo's ballet benefit that dissolves into slapstick, in Henri's fantasy of theatrical successleading up to the resplendent title ballet. But they are never thrown in simply to impress an audience (although they do); everything relates to the central theme and these hard-working performers make it look effortless. (The leads have several alternates, since no one could be expected to do this choreography eight performances a week, and the company includes a large number of swings.)