An American in Paris - Theatre Review

by Jen Brown

Inspired by the 1951 Academy Award winning film of the same name, An American in Paris opened at the Palace Theatre on Broadway in April 2015 and closed over a year and a half later. The current national tour opened in the autumn of 2016 in Boston, and a London production just began.

The LA opening night of An American in Paris at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre was an out and out triumph, or an Arc de Triomphe, one might say. A truly monumental staging of a musical play that reflected the political changes and power struggles of post war Paris, celebrating with great artistry a story of survival, hope and true love.

The play begins with composer Adam Hochberg sitting at the piano, puffing on a cigarette. In a relaxed and engaging performance by Etai Benson, Adam asks what springs to mind when thinking of Paris. Shouts of "girls" and "cheese" created a frivolous precursor to the romantic tale of what happened when painter Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner), wealthy stage struck, song and dance guy Henry Baurel (Nick Spangler) and Adam himself fell in love with the same girl - beautiful ballerina Lise Dassin (Sara Esty).

An air of tension descended as the curtain drew back to reveal the symbol of a Swastika flying alongside the French flag, but a cheer from the audience at the sight of the Tricolore told us we were there to enjoy ourselves. We were encouraged to join forces with an amazing group of players; to contemplate brighter times and not dwell upon past atrocities.

The male leads portrayed the three struggling creatives with aplomb and conviction. Their outstanding skill in not only treading but dancing the boards, was exhilarating to behold. The trio sang as superbly as they danced, an hilarious rendition from Henri called "I Got Rhythm." Scribner's vocal skill and exuberance making us root for him with "I've Got Beginner's Luck," and many more.

Esty, the very definition of gamine, gave an exquisite portrayal of Lise. Her slight physique and simple style highlighted her grace and dancing prowess, but beneath her veil of buoyancy a sad and troubled past shone through. Torn with misguided loyalties to her fiance Henri and her real feelings for Jerry, Lise was brought to life with a compelling and moving performance. Her finely executed song, "The Man I Love," pulled at our heartstrings and allowed us to feel her pain.

Emily Ferranti gave a scheming and mischievous slant on Milo Davenport, the American Philanthropist who, while enamoured with Jerry, introduces him to an explosive post WWII art world, further complicating his already heavy matters of the heart. Ferranti brought an elegance to the role of a woman who was not about to get what she wanted.

Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Gayton Scott and Don Noble) turned in grand performances as the overbearing parents of the awkward Henri. The comedic antics between the pair as Madame Baurel coaches him in writing a letter of proposal to Lise while mercilessly berating him is a delight. Henri puts pen to paper with a clumsy "Please Lise" and Madame Baurel warns, in no uncertain terms, that her son will have "missed his chance!"

The ensemble was breath-taking, with dancers and singers executing their brilliance in ballet, tap and all forms of the dance. Talent, technique and sheer mastery exuded from every single trouper. Accolades to Christopher Wheelan, Director and Choreographer, and Sam Davis, Dance Arrangements. The dance routines were impeccable, filled with post-war energy and often mesmerising. The ballet scene in the "theatre" of act II, which initially seemed too long, ended up as the tour de force of the evening. Everyone in the audience held their breath as they watched the show unfold to the other "audience" onstage.

Everyone loves a happy ending. After many a false start we finally get it, and watch the happy couple walk arm-in-arm into the sunset.

Top marks must go to Set Designer Bob Crowley for fluid-like backdrops that slid, rose-up, melded and flew to seamlessly transport us into Parisian street cafes, department stores, ballet studios and more - not forgetting the Moulin Rouge and the Eiffel Tower, which, with help from the Lighting Department, grew from nothing before our eyes.

Crowley also designed the costumes with a kaleidoscope of colours, patterns, fabrics and an essence of Coco Chanel. The Harlequin red and black of the masked ball scene and the garish brightness of the ballet sequence echoed the unsettled tone of both montages.

Lighting Design by Natasha Katz enhanced the action and mood onstage, bringing about a magical continuity with sparkles and twinkles in all the right places. Subdued lighting on the smoky mirrors in the ballet studio was particularly effective, casting a sepia- like quality over dance rehearsals.

Props by Kathy Fabian brought fun with umbrellas, bicycles, art frames and store mannequins, with Scribner displaying scintillating "hoofmanship" when he danced, or should I say slid across the stage with one such alluring "dame!"

Music, sound and orchestral expertise merged in a magnificent fashion to enhance every nuance of the show. The patrons loved An American in Paris and gave it the standing ovation it deserved. The award winning Craig Lucas' An American in Paris runs at the Pantages, Hollywood until 9th April. " 'S Wonderful, 'S Marvellous" - It's a resounding hit! Don't miss it!

Posted By Jen Brown on March 29, 2017 03:40 pm | Permalink