Ah, romance. There’s plenty of it right now at the Fox Theatre. The current run of An American in Paris goes through January 29. Based on the mid-century film that was inspired by Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition of the same name, it’s about art and love and loss. Those Gershwin sounds that are pretty irresistible. Younger theater-goers may recognize many of them if they listen to jazz, where they’ve become jazz standards to be riffed and enlarged on, but never losing the essential tunefulness and emotion that are so intrinsic.
It’s the time just after World War II when American artists, both visual and performing, were returning to Paris, or, in some cases, staying after their discharge from the military. The latter is the situation with our main character, Jerry Mulligan – no relation, apparently, to the jazz saxophonist of the near-identical name – who’s a painter. He runs into Adam, an American composer-musician in a little cafe and they strike up a friendship. The third musketeer is Henri, a local, who really wants to be a singer instead of running his family’s factory. He’s the only one of the three who has a steady income; the two Yanks are earning their living by – well, if not the seat of their pants, the tips of their fingers with painting and playing piano. Henri’s also the only one with a girlfriend, unmet by the other two, to whom he’s trying to propose.
Is that a setup? Of course. Jerry has kept seeing in passing, even before his military discharge, this very mysterious young woman he hasn’t been able to meet. And Adam runs into a lovely dancer when he’s playing for a ballet company’s rehearsal.
Because this is a dance show. The leads in the movie were Gene Kelly, who did the choreography for the film, and Leslie Caron, both dancers who turned out to be fine actors. (It was Caron’s film debut; Kelly had found her in a Roland Petit corps de Ballet.)
Gershwin music, always a good thing, and a real orchestra, not a bunch of electronics. A modern script, a fairly good thing. And two first-rate leads, Garen Scribner as Jerry and Sara Esty as Lise, the girl – who, of course, is the objet d’passion of all three men. Please note that Jerry will be played at all matinees but the final one by Ryan Steele, and Lise on Sunday and Thursday evenings by Leigh-Ann Esty, Sara’s twin. Both leads that I saw dance, act and sing with passion; the show’s in good hands with them.
Special notice also should go to Etai Benson, who played Adam Hochberg, the piano guy, warm and charming. He should have gotten the girl. And there’s Emily Ferrante’s Milo Davenport, rich American patron of the arts. And of artists, it turns out, but Ferrante’s Milo’s not quite as tough as she thinks she is. Nick Spangler is Henri, who must want to be Maurice Chevalier; he adds a third voice to the other musketeers in several numbers, and the results are absolutely delicious. He’s also very fine in “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” with Scribner and the company. Enjoy, as well, a more obscure number that I’d never heard or heard of before, “Fidgety Feet”, which was great fun.
The backdrop to the show, an electronic screen with some projections is a swell actualization of what this technology can do in theatre, a setting appearing as though it’s being drawn in a setting that seems a dream realized to the characters of the play, for instance. My single serious complaint is the lack of synchronization in many dance numbers early in the show. It doesn’t happen in numbers involving tap shoes, thank goodness, but there are times when the back row and the front row or the right and the left halves of the stage are visibly out of step with each other. One sees this more and more frequently on stage, not just in this show. Perhaps that’s just the spirit of the times or of dance captains. But it looks unprofessional. I suspect it wouldn’t have been happening when Gershwin was alive – too many unemployed dancers waiting to take the place of the out-of-sync.
Still, a yummy show of this sort.
An American in Paris
through January 29
527 N. Grand