By Morgan Politzer
The city of Paris is full of light and music in the stage adaptation of the 1951 film of the same name, “An American in Paris,” and it is every bit as dreamy as the title suggests. Directed by Christopher Wheeldon, the musical is set in France just after the Second World War. With brightly colored costumes and magnificently elegant choreography, “An American in Paris” is full of the romance one would expect from a musical set on the riverbanks of the picture-perfect city.
Both lead actors, McGee Maddox and Allison Walsh, are dancers by trade, but they are more than capable of spinning a hopelessly romantic and trying love story. Set just after World War II, Paris is still recovering from loss and destruction. American soldier Jerry Mulligan (Maddox) decides to remain in the city to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. There, he meets American pianist and composer Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott) and Frenchman Henri Baurel (Ben Michael), who unfortunately is the fiancé of the mysterious Lise Dassin (Walsh), a young dancer who not only wins the lead as prima ballerina in a new ballet, but Adam and Jerry’s hearts as well. As Jerry falls hopelessly in love with Lise, he is pursued by the rich and beautiful Milo Davenport (Kirsten Scott), while Lise rejects his advantages, feeling her duty is to Henri and his family. As Lise and Jerry grow closer, Lise finds herself questioning her relationship with Henri and craving the passionate love she has found with Jerry.
When Adam meets Lise, he is a cynic, believing that music should tell the truth about life, especially during the dark year following the war as Paris tries to restore itself to its former glory. It is not until he sees Lise dance with passion and love for the first time that he realizes he is not in love with her, but rather the light she brings to his otherwise gloomy world, finally allowing him to see the shine of the City of Lights.
Ballet becomes central to the production of dance sequences are used to move the plot along. While the beginning of the production is a bit slow in explaining the storyline, it grows in excitement closer to the second half. Both the production and the ballet within the production lead up to the culminating scene: an elaborate sequence in which Lise uses her newfound realization of her love for Jerry to inspire a performance full of romance and desire.
While the ballet lends to the grandeur of Paris, costume and set designer Bob Crowley’s digital and looming sets to build the City of Lights. Many of the sets were created on a digital backdrop, slowly etched onto the screen as if they were being sketched by Jerry himself, bringing his version of the city into perspective. With boats floating on a rippling lake and the lights of the city blinking in the twilight, the visuals of this production are just as important as the music itself.
Although the original film version of “An American in Paris” was released nearly 70 years ago, Crowley gave the costumes a modern flair. The use of bold, primary colors and traditional dance styles intermixed with musical theater is mirrored in the contemporary film “La La Land” starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, creating an honest, classic look across generations.
While full of the graceful stunts and daring lifts of ballet, the production is also full of catchy, Broadway-style musical numbers, courtesy of George and Ira Gershwin. Flashy group numbers like “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” are glimpses into the glittery world of performance that Henri secretly so desperately wants to be a part of.
Jerry is a hopeless romantic, with dreams of love as large as the city known for love itself: Paris. This airy, whimsical musical is a personification of the idealized dream of finding true love, distinguishing the characters as the true Americans in Paris.
“An American in Paris” will run at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts through Jan 7, 2018.
Featured Photo Credit: (Matthew Murphy/ The Kennedy Center)
Morgan Politzer is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.