AN AMERICAN IN PARIS
April 28, 2015
Few can resist what is now considered a Classic American Film, the 1951 “An American in Paris.” Set to the lush orchestral compositions by George Gershwin, it starred the film’s choreographer Gene Kelly. This feel-good musical wraps its glow around an American ex-GI painter, searching for fame and love in the city of arts and romance.
This music and dance lover’s film now has a second-life on Broadway. The internationally recognized choreographer Christopher Wheeldon elected to take a page from the “Book of Jerome Robbins” and direct and choreograph “An American in Paris” for Broadway. To help win the crowds, Wheeldon cast one of today’s most accomplished ballet dancer/actors from New York City Ballet, Robert Fairchild and the British Royal Ballet gamin, Leanne Cope—(Lise Dassin.)
Dance, not dialogue, becomes the dominant form of conversation, and the cast is quite marvelous at carrying-off all the different dance styles. Despite his stellar ballet reputation, Fairchild’s musical theater chops were not tested. Well, he soars in the part, both as dancer and dreamy actor. Fully capable of expressing unquenchable desire for the young lady (who happens to be his good friend’s love), Fairchild succeeds in translating his innate interpretive abilities to the part. Fine supporting dancers and cast members including the dryly-witty Adam Hochberg (Brandon Uranowitz), the American heiress Milo Davenport (Jill Paice) and the winning textile millionaire Henri Baurel (Max von Essen) surrounded Fairchild.
Although it follows the film’s outline, a few changes compound the dancerly aspect by sending Jerry to a ballet class where, in the tradition of Degas, Jerry will sketch the dancers while Brandon accompanies the class on piano. In attendance is Milo, who along with everyone else, is charmed by the young ballerina Lise and offers to underwrite a ballet set to Brandon’s music, Jerry’s design, and starring Lise. The only one left out of this equation is the compelling Henri, who has tons of money, loves Lise and harbors a wish to sing cabaret.
However, dance motivates this airy musical, which is a good thing, because despite the both dancers’ wonderful stage abilities, unlike their Broadway veterans, the dancers’ lungs and speaking voices lack amplification. But their dancing is matchless. Known for his crisp classic form, partnering excellence and buoyancy, Fairchild is putting on a show for the decade. Adept at tap dancing, soft show, modern dance and ballet, Fairchild dashes all memories of Gene Kelly. Although much of the choreography is ballet-based, Wheeldon plays to Fairchild and Cope’s strengths, designing partner-based moves that few could negotiate with such fluidity. Athletic in build, Fairchild’s outline resembles Kelly, and most importantly, he exudes that all-American freshness. Naturally, Wheeldon selected a high-caliber ensemble adept at speeding across the stage, jumping and turning at high velocity without a trace of sweat.
Best at handling moving bodies in clever patterns and unexpected combinations, Wheeldon loses some of that nerve in the less explosive dramatic sequences. All of the production leads to the final climatic ballet that was a memorable excursion in film magic as realized by Vincente Minnelli. In the show, Wheeldon lacks the visual ammunition, and even though Bob Crowley‘s sweeping designs add a picturesque dimension, the ballet is not as intense as many other passages. Actually, choreographic and vocal heights merge in Henri’s fanciful imagining of himself as a jazz club singer. He wallops “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” that transforms from a smoky club to Radio City Music Hall, blazing with some of the finest Rockettes in town.
“An American in Paris” leaves everyone smiling and humming Gershwin.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis