I had the opportunity to see the new “An American in Paris” in preview last night in NYC. It already feels finished (the show ran for several months in Paris, with the exact same cast, crew, and designers) where it received raves. Its going to be the talk of the town once it opens, and apparently already is — the audience last night was filled with a virtual who’s-who of New York ballet and Broadway dance professionals.
Ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (and if you don’t know who he is, you better do a quick Google search, he’s a name every dance aficionado instantly recognizes) directs and choreographs his first Broadway musical (or Broadway-Franco musical as the case may be) and this production is all about the dance.
Craig Lucas expands upon the original movie script with background stories for each of our leads, and its a well-written book. The musical score is pure Gershwin. There are some great vocals — in particular the work of Max von Essen as Jerry’s friend Henri. But that is not why people will flock to this musical — here, its about the visually stunning scenic design and the dance. Its all about the dance — even the sets dance — things float, cross, move, flutter, sometimes all at the same time.
In general, backgrounds incorporate projections of chalk then watercolor sketches that depict familiar Parisian landmarks — and its all sort of like one watercolor painting spilling into another from scene to scene — with a bit of late 40s avant-garde thrown in for good measure. Stunning work by Bob Crowley, 59 Productions, and Natasha Katz.
But its all about dance here — big, huge, ballet-informed dance. This is not your typical Broadway musical — this is ballet set upon a Broadway stage, and it is simply remarkable.
Robert Fairchild plays Jerry (Gene Kelly) and Leanne Cope plays Lise (Leslie Caron). Both are lead dancers at the New York Ballet — and their fans will turn out in droves to see them here. While both have good singing voices, and charisma to spare, nobody will mistake their work for acting genius — this is about their Dance — and dance they do — for almost three hours. When was the last time you saw a Broadway musical and wanted the songs to stop but the dance to go on? That is what you get here — in gorgeous, mesmerizing moves both big and small. Fairchild leaps and bounds about the Palace Theatre, and tosses Cope about like a ragdoll — but she is no ragdoll — her dance is precise, emotional, and highly athletic. Late in the final dance sequence, Fairchild does his famous vertical leap — and you hold your breath and wonder, what was that ten feet? 12 feet?
Come for the musical — stay for the ballet — and absolutely get tickets to this stunner of a show. I did not want it to end. I am already planning a trip back to see it again.
Very highly recommended. An American in Paris, Palace Theatre, New York.
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