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An American in Paris ~ A New Musical

Kennedy Center
Jordan Wright
December 15, 2017 

An American in Paris in USA - Photo credit Matthew Murphy

An American in Paris in USA – Photo credit by Matthew Murphy

Ballet buffs and George and Ira Gershwin enthusiasts will adore Director/Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s film-to-stage homage of An American in Paris.  Wheeldon successfully recaptures the mid-century modernist style of dance that Kelly created for the eponymous 1951 classic.  The movie garnered six top Academy Awards and gave Kelly his one and only Oscar.  In this multiple Tony Award-winning interpretation, Craig Lucas has freshened up both the story and the dialogue to appeal to millennials, mad for anything Parisian.

Allison Walsh and McGee Maddox ~ Photo by Matthew Murphy

Set in post-war Paris it is a story of three men enamored with the captivating, Lise (Allison Walsh), an aspiring ballerina whose backstory touches on France’s Nazi occupation.  Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an American GI and amateur painter who, like many other soldiers, stayed behind in the City of Light, soon bonds with budding composer and jazz pianist, Adam Hoch (Matthew Scott), an American Jew who survived the war and stayed on with the intention of writing a ballet about it.  Adam makes a few francs mentoring Henri Baurel (Ben Michael), a well-to-do society gent keen on a career as a song-and-dance man in America.  All three pals are unaware that the others are in love with Lise.

Ben Michael, McGee Maddox and Matthew Scott – Photo by Matthew Murphy

There are disparate, sometimes awkward elements in the stage version that can sometimes feel as though it was produced by an ad hoc committee.  The debonair insouciance we remember fondly of Kelly goes missing, yet the salient parts – the wonderful dancing, Bob Crowley’s seamless Parisian set designs, as well as his 1940’s costumes, are superb.  Milo Davenport (Kirsten Scott), Jerry’s American sugar momma and arts patron, wows in an emerald green gown reminiscent of the period.

Kristen Scott and Matthew Scott – Photo by Matthew Murphy

If you love arabesques, multi-revolution pirouettes, dancing en pointe, lofty lifts and leaps, you will fall hard for Maddox and Walsh, who seem cloud-like and gravity-defiant.  After a slew of hip rolls and high kicks in a nightclub can-can, comes Jerry and Lise’s 18-minute pas de deux finale that will cause you to dismiss any less than stellar moments.  Crowley again delivers with Mondrian color-block leotards echoing the abstract minimalist movement of the period.

A twenty-person dance ensemble delights as feather-bedecked Follies girls (Henri’s show biz fantasy tapdanced in tails and high hats), in Grecian tableaus at a salon reception given by Henri’s staid maman, Madame Baurel (Teri Hansen), and in the many jazz ballet numbers.

And harder you may fall for David Andrew Rogers’ soaring orchestra backing songs like “I Got Rhythm”, “S Wonderful”, “The Man I Love”, “Shall We Dance”, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me”, and twelve other somewhat lesser known Gershwin tunes that dovetail neatly into the plot.

Through January 7, 2018 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts at 2700 F St., NW, Washington, DC.  For tickets and information call 202 467-4600 or visit website.

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