Inspired by the 1951 film of the same name, An American in Paris is infused with music from the Gershwins and is truly a visual masterpiece.
If live theatre could be watched with a remote control there are moments in An American in Paris: A New Musical where I would want to rewind to watch over and over again, hit pause to revel in its stunning beauty and also fast forward to get to something better. There are several positives about An American in Paris, proving why it won four Tony awards, but the one negative is hard for me to overcome. If only I had a remote control, I could have sped through the ballet scene and then the performance would have been close to perfect.
Inspired by the 1951 film of the same name, An American in Paris is infused with music from the Gershwins and is truly a visual masterpiece. How a screen is used to produce scenic backgrounds is captivating. The vibrant costumes are splendid and the dancing is among the best ever seen. The show offers a full smorgasbord of visual delicatessens. Plus, there’s a storyline too, told by an extremely talented cast.
Its 1945, right after World War 2, but Paris is still full of romance as the love square, which is central to the plot, indicates. Three men; Jerry Mulligan (the artist), Adam Hochberg (pianist/composer) and Henri Baurel) are all in pursuit of Lise Dassin (dancer). Of course neither of the guys knows they are all interested in the same woman, which leads to some hijinks and later heartbreak. Furthermore, a wealthy blonde vixen, Milo Davenport is thrown into the mix, to pull at the heart strings of Jerry as well. She agrees to fund a ballet, on the condition that it stars Lise, is designed by Jerry and composed by Adam.
The role of Jerry, is played by McGee Maddox, and while I don’t know what Maddox’s drawing skills are in real life, he can create a masterpiece with his feet. If Maddox’s feet form Van Gogh quality work then Allison Walsh is the equivalent of Picasso in her portrayal of Lise. They combine for some classic dance numbers, along with a gifted ensemble. He walks with a limp due to an injury from the war, but Matthew Scott hits every step as Adam. Scott possesses a strong stage presence and makes Adam a very endearing character. Actually all three of the guys are very likeable, putting Lise in a difficult position, as Ben Michael is charming as Henri.
There are some magical elements to An American in Paris. My remote control would be used so I could re-watch the scenes in which some instant costume changes were made and try to figure out how. Right on the center of the stage, Lise suddenly switches from being in a yellow dress to a black one during one of the dance numbers. Plus in the opening scene a large piano simply vanishes. The screen is also pretty magical with how it transports you to downtown Paris or wherever else the action is with its realistic scenic elements. At one point I actually felt like I had somehow been moved to inside Radio City Music Hall in New York City due to the images the screen projected. You can’t afford to blink as it’s never known when some magic will strike.
My one fault with the show is its amount of ballet. While I respect the talent required for ballet, it serves as a sleep inducer to me. There’s a reason I have never attended a performance of The Nutcracker. I can nap at home. The portion of An American in Paris that I would fast forward through is the ballet scene (in which Lise stars in, Jerry designs for, and Adam composes). The scene seemingly goes on long enough to outlast the Energizer bunny. Granted, those who enjoy ballet will be overjoyed and love the dancing, but I was just anxious for it to be over. Approximately 14 minutes later, it finally was. With a remote control it would have been just mere seconds.
Those who are fans of ballet will take great pleasure in An American in Paris and there is still plenty to enjoy for those who aren’t. Just be prepared or bring a remote control and see if it works, after all there is some magic in the air. An American in Paris continues at the Schuster Center through November 12.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.