As An American in Paris opens at the Palace Theater, a Nazi flag seemingly draped over an entire city, drops down and floats away. The city is Paris, its narrow streets dour until we get to a café, where an American soldier, Jerry (Robert Fairchild) meets an American composer, Adam (Brandon Uranowitz), and a Frenchman, Henri (Max von Essen) who wants to sing cabaret. As color and light envelop the city, all three fall in love with the same girl, Lise (Leanne Cope), a shop girl who aspires to dance. If you know the 1951 movie on which it is based, this story provides the perfect premise for a traditional Broadway musical. This new incarnation features George Gershwin's classic score, well known, ("I Got Rhythm," "S Wonderful") and lesser known songs ("I'll Build a Stairway to Heaven" and "Fidgety Feet"), Craig Lucas' book, Bob Crowley's costumes and set, and the prodigious talents of Christopher Wheeldon, ballet choreographer extraordinaire working the Broadway musical genre for the first time, as choreographer and director. Given this mix of gifted artists, this production promised to be wonderful, a Tony contender, a huge hit -- and indeed it is.
Christopher Wheeldon had his doubts, (or was it modesty?), during the rehearsal process, even as he was aware of bringing something fresh to Broadway. "I choreographed An American in Paris for the NYC Ballet a few years ago, just as a ballet," he said. "It's not even a relative of the new version. The ballet within An American in Paris is a musical, a 12-minute dance number, smaller. This is a Broadway musical with many dance numbers and a ballet at the end." While the leads are ballet stars -- both Fairchild and Cope are making their Broadway debuts, the rest of the talented cast is made up of Broadway actors. In addition to Uranowitz and von Essen, standouts include Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, a chic patron of the arts with hauteur and style, and Veanne Cox as Henri's mother, much affected by the war until she breaks out of her somber shell. Even she gets to dance.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.