PARIS: An American in Paris
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An American in Paris

Théâtre du Châtelet

In Review American in Paris HDl 315
Fairchild and Cope in An American in Paris at the Châtelet
© Angela Sterling 2015

A film often follows a successful run of a stage musical, but the opposite was true for Gershwin’s American in Paris,Vincente Minnelli’s Academy Award-winning 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron and Georges Guétary. The film, which uses Gershwin songs as well as the orchestral work of the title and the Piano Concerto in F, provided the starting point for Christopher Wheeldon’s new stage production of the same name, with a new book by playwright Craig Lucas and a chamber ensemble in the pit conducted by Brad Haak. The show displayed new and exciting progress in the Théâtre du Châtelet’s role as the unofficial home in Paris of the American musical. The production, shared with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, has a Broadway opening scheduled for this spring, and judging by the sold-out run at the Châtelet, which included a number of previews, the team has a hit on its hands.

The production values were of a professionalism rarely seen in the French capital, with magically fast scene-changes on December 11. Bob Crowley’s designs were atmospheric and made use of modern video techniques to produce spare but evocative images of the French capital, including the Châtelet theater itself for Lise’s debut as a dancer. These local references may mean less to a New York audience, but they brought a glow of recognition from the Paris audience, remembering that the French star of the film, Georges Guétary, rejected a Hollywood career in favor of returning to his beloved Châtelet. 

Lucas’s book also played an important role in the evening’s success, transposing the musical to 1945, just after the city’s liberation, which introduced plot lines surrounding the Resistance into this story of three men who love the same girl. This gave the show a stronger linear progression than the film. Jerry and Lise end up together after the final dance sequence, which is no longer a virtuoso turn but plays an integral role in the drama. Wheeldon’s choreography was a hybrid mix of classical and jazz, inventive and danced with show-stopping energy by the company, led by a towering performance from Robert Fairchild, a principal of New York City Ballet, as the aspirant painter Jerry, opposite Leanne Cope, the delicious star of London’s Royal Ballet, as Lise. Great performances also came from Max von Essen, as the stiff Henri Baurel, who dreams of being a cabaret star, and from Brandon Uranowitz, as the musician Adam, who gave one of the best performances of the evening in “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” 

The only possible caveat was musical: the dancers carry the show, and they did well in Gershwin’s heavily amplified songs, but these have been better sung by more experienced vocalists. In recent seasons, the theater has presented musicals with full symphony orchestras; here, the pit band under Haak, with excellent arrangements by Rob Fisher, was outstanding. A quick listen to Toscanini’s version of An American in Paris shows how much more this music can offer, but as a joyous Christmas show for the City of Light it would be difficult to imagine a better choice. spacer 


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