14) AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
An American In Paris. Hmm, I'm sure I saw the film years ago — Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron wasn’t it? — but I’m positive I’ve never seen the musical.
This is my first thought as I stop and read the poster in one of the maze-like tunnels of Châtelet Metro station advertising the upcoming production. As I read on I learn that the show will premiere at Théâtre Châtelet in late November, 2014.
Great, we’ll still be in Paris then. I’ll book tickets straight away.
After the Paris season opens I watch an interview with some of the actors following a resoundingly successful opening night. Here I learn that the show has never been to Broadway. Really? In fact, it’s never been made into a stage musical before; I can’t believe it!!
George Gershwin wrote a symphonic poem entitled An American In Paris in 1928. He was living briefly in Paris at the time having recently been lauded for his extraordinary symphonic piece, Rhapsody in Blue. He had travelled to Paris to meet contemporary composers he admired: Stravinsky, Ravel, Poulenc, Milhaud.
Vincente Minnelli directed the successful 1951 movie version that included songs from George and Ira Gershwin’s portfolio, along with the original orchestral piece which accompanied the ballet sequence. The movie received six Academy Awards including best picture. Surprisingly, Gene Kelly failed to receive a nomination. He was, however, awarded an honorary Academy Award that year for his talent, versatility, and contribution to the art of choreography; this was to be his only Oscar.
For the first musical theatre version of An American In Paris, directed and choreographed by Brit Christopher Wheeldon, further songs have been sourced and added. The effect is unfamiliarity with parts of the score, but an exciting sense of discovery as the production unfolds. Memorable songs from the movie such as: I Got Rhythm, I'll Build A Stairway To Paradise, Love Is Here To Stay, and S'Wonderful are scattered through the play.
Possessing a singularly French flavour impossible to attain anywhere but on the banks of the Seine itself, this new production of An American In Paris is breathtaking. Commencing, Phantom-of-the-Opera style, back-stage at Théâtre Châtelet itself, it takes us on a magical journey into post-WWII Paris. The centre-piece of the plot, a budding love affair between Jerry, an American GI now living in Paris and trying his hand as a painter, and Lise, a beautiful young French girl who is engaged to be married to Henri, a covert cabaret singer of wealthy Jewish parents.
Jerry’s fellow countryman, Adam, a composer also struggling to make a living from his art in Paris, takes the role of narrator, and provides comic relief. The cast of leads is rounded out by the character of Milo, a wealthy American woman buying up the work of young artists in Paris. Milo tries, unsuccessfully, to buy Jerry’s love along with his paintings.
The cast is strong: acting, singing, dancing, and character development all well-rounded. The ensemble, however, is stunning. The dancing, along with Gershwin’s haunting rhythmic music, is the focus and triumphant core of this production.
The piece-de-resistance of Christopher Wheeldon’s An American In Paris is the 20-minute ballet sequence in the second act; a tradition started by the Opera de Paris to ensure wealthy patrons, who would invariably arrive fashionably late, were able to see this highlight of the evenings performance. From Mondrian-esque colour blocking, to a tableau mirroring the graphic of the Eiffel Tower seen on the poster, the ballet is mesmerizing. Again, the feel is very Parisian, and a far cry from Broadway. My feeling is that transferring this production from the tasteful refinement of Théâtre Châtelet to the busy mayhem of Times Square will take some tweaking. I have no doubt it will be a hit, however will the American audiences be fully satisfied?
If the rousing, roaring, cheering standing ovation that greeted the cast at the conclusion of our performance of An American In Paris is anything to go by, and knowing how reserved a French audience can be, they will be satisfied and then some . .
December 28th, 2014.