Review: An American in Paris

Allison Walsh and McGee Maddox (l-r)                             Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
June 7, 2018

An American in Paris features ballet and a little tap dancing, which makes the show light on its feet. Such weightlessness can be good choreographically and bad dramatically. But late in the second act, this musical gains enough heft to leave the audience pretty much satisfied.

“Inspired by” the 1951 motion picture (starring Gene Kelly), the show is technically a jukebox musical. But, oh, what a jukebox! George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin wrote all the music. From “I Got Rhythm” to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” the Gershwins created nary a weak song or false note. The playwright Craig Lucas wrote the book for the show, which opened on Broadway in 2015. This is the touring version, presented at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway series. It’s directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, who won a Tony award for his dances.

The choreography consists almost completely of ballet, giving the show a distinctive look from today’s musical theater. (The cast biographies show much ballet experience.) But in the second act, Wheeldon brings out men in white tie and tails and women sporting spangling, feathery costumes tap dancing to “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.”

Set in 1945 Paris, still in post-war shock, the show concerns Lise, who goes from being a French shop girl to prima ballerina while being wooed by two American ex-G.I.s and a Frenchman who are friends but don’t know, for a while, they’re romantic rivals.

More than about any other modern musical, this show requires true triple threats—and proficient in ballet, mind you—in the lead roles of Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin. McGee Maddox (whose name sounds like a character in a musical) displays the dancing, singing, and acting chops for the male lead. In fact, Maddox plays Jerry so well he makes it look easier than it surely must be. As Lise, Allison Walsh does everything Maddox does; she just does it with a credible French accent (her program bio does not indicate Walsh is French).

The rest of the cast do top-notch jobs. Matthew Scott plays Adam Hochberg, the other ex-G.I. (played by Oscar Levant in the film), a composer who struggles to complete a concerto while cracking wise. Ben Michael is Henri Baurel, Lise’s French wooer, who aspires to be a crooner playing Radio City Music Hall. Kirsten Scott nails the role of Milo Davenport, an American philanthropist angling for both a husband and modern art. The large ensemble of triple threats give fine performances. A thirteen-piece pit orchestra, large for a touring company, accompanies the show and is led by David Andrews Rogers, who often conducts for Lyric Theatre.

The production consists of a complicated combination of parts, which are always in motion. Bob Crowley designed the set and costumes, and they fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. An outfit called 59 Productions created animated projections, a prominent visual element of the show, sometimes to the point of almost overwhelming the cast. You see many references to mid-twentieth century art: a Picasso-like painting depicted in 3D; costumes for the long “An American in Paris” dance at the end look inspired by Mondrian.

In many ways, An American in Paris is an odd musical. The songs, setting, and period costumes reside in early to middle last century. Some innuendo about Henri’s sexuality and reflections on the Holocaust are current. Depicting the earlier period via a modern technological spectacle bridges the gap between the two in an unusual, but mostly pleasing, way.

An American in Paris by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics) and
Craig Lucas (book)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7
8:00 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 8-9
2:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June 9-10
7:00 p.m. Sunday, June 10
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.
$33-$98
405-297-2264

 

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