It’s easy to see why An American in Paris was the most-awarded musical of 2015 and the winner of four Tony Awards®. The Durham Performing Arts Center’s presentation of this musical, as part of the current SunTrust Broadway Series, is spectacular, with songs by the indomitable Gershwin Brothers (George and Ira, who won the Oscar® for Best Music for the movie version of the show in 1952) and choreography by Tony Award winner Christopher Wheeldon. The show, featuring recognizable songs, such as “I Got Rhythm,” and some of the best dancing and singing that DPAC has seen this season, will run through Jan. 8th; and if opening nights are any indication, seats will be as hard to find as a bad moment in this production.
The story, inspired by director Vincente Minnelli’s multi-Oscar®-winning tale, examines the romantic triangle constructed by three men who all fall in love with the same women. In the film, dance star Gene Kelly plays the American GI/artist Jerry Mulligan and Leslie Caron portrays Lise Bouvier, the French dancer with whom he falls in love. Adam Cook, Jerry’s friend, is played by Oscar Levant and Cook’s friend, French singer Henri Baurel, is played by Georges GuÃ©tary. The other part of this love confusion, the wealthy patron of the arts, Milo Roberts, is played by Nina Foch. Though the general construct of the tale of three friends pursuing the same mysterious French female remains the same as the film, there are changes in the Broadway version, starting with the characters’ names.
For all intents and purposes, this is a romance of the highest caliber. Each of the characters is searching for their love identity; and even the setting (The City of Light, Paris) is recuperating after a broken heart and rebuilding itself. Because the city is also a character in this musical, the set and costume design is of utmost importance; and Bob Crowley has outdone himself. With moveable pieces that are switched on and off stage by the actors themselves to construct a backdrop of French neighborhoods and iconic buildings, the world of post-WWII Paris is believable and often poignant. The projections (by 59 Productions) often change and flow with the dance and the music, enabling the audience to enter the world of the young lovers.
But it is the dancers/singers/actors of this production which make it soar and become truly memorable.
Sara Esty (playing Lise Dassin) is truly a delicate yet sassy dancer with gorgeous balletic lines and a lightness to her jumps and lifts that make her a pleasure to watch. It’s not just her dancing that brings Esty’s Lise to life, however. Though she has been a professional ballerina, performing as a soloist with the Miami City Ballet, this is her first Broadway show; and it’s the combination of her lovely, strong voice, and her electric connection with Garen Scribner (playing Jerry Mulligan) that lifts her into the realm of Broadway stars. Though Leslie Caron made a perfectly French and perfectly sophisticated Lise, Esty creates a warmer, more approachable Lise that is believable as a woman torn between her love for her dancing and her love for several different men.
Scribner’s Mulligan is as solid as Esty’s Lise Dassin. He, too, is a professional dancer, having been trained here in North Carolina at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and having performed as a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet. He’s as comfortable in ballet as he is in jazz and in his element when he performs duets with Esty. Their chemistry during their pas de deux is natural; and when they finally connect and kiss as lovers, the passion they display is what one would expect from a couple who has fallen in love at the end of a World War in the middle of the most romantic city on earth. The actor who plays Jerry Mulligan must be equally as strong in song as in dance, and Scribner is, exhibiting a range that takes him from the upbeat solo in “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” to the finale song, the great Gershwin romantic hit, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”
Nick Spangler plays the wealthy Frenchman, Henri Baurel, who longs for a life on stage and believes his family will never allow it. Spangler, winner of “The Amazing Race,” with his sister Starr, in 2008, is a Broadway veteran with roles in such shows as The Book of Mormon, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, and It Shoulda Been You. He, too, is multitalented, though his voice is stronger than his dancing. His French accent is fairly natural, as is his love for Lise. Though he’s one of the losers in this love triangle, there’s an undercurrent in his character that suggests Lise might not have been the best match anyway.
The third man in love with the fabulous Lise is Adam Hochberg, played by Etai Benson. As the composer/piano player in this tale, he creates a story line and songs for Lise that speak to his background (he’s a Jew) and his love for his adopted home. In the street scene where he announces to Lise that he’s going to create a ballet for her, he is especially poignant, because his character has come home from the war with an injury that ensures that he will probably not dance the ballet he’s composing for the woman he loves.
As with most romantic stories of this nature, there is another woman, and this one (Milo Davenport) is played right on the edge of being shrill by Emily Ferranti. There’s a talent to playing the “other” woman, a way of making her sympathetic, as well as likable, especially when constructed as a foil to the lead. Ferranti reaches out for her own piece of the love pie with incredible costumes, a gorgeous appearance, and a voice that’s particularly poignant when she sings “But Not for Me” with Adam/Benson.
There is not one bad moment in this show. The dancing is exquisite, with actors/dancers moving seamlessly from abstract jazz moves to the graceful leaps of the ballet. Bravo to director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon for choreography that rivals the Broadway greats. The music is both recognizable and award-worthy, the songs sung by strong voices with character and just the right amount of melancholy. And the sets evoke a Paris that is bruised and tired but still beautiful. In short, ‘S Wonderful! I loved it and you will, too!
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 5th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-AN-AMERICAN-IN-PARIS-National-Tour-at-Durham-Performing-Arts-Center-20170105 and Dec. 27th BWW TV interview associate musical director Brad Gardner, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-TV-AN-AMERICAN-IN-PARIS-is-Coming-to-DPAC-20161227; Jan. 5th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/blogs/on-stage/review-an-american-in-paris-a-winter-reprieve/article_41e59208-d37d-11e6-927d-1bed40b4656d.html and Dec. 31st Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/scribner-an-american-in-paris-role-a-real-thrill/article_c616b816-cfb0-11e6-b429-e3a4ffba4357.html (Note: You must subscribe to read these articles); Jan. 5th Burlington, NC Times-News review by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/stellar-musical-thats-hard-to-top-an-american-in-paris-concludes-this-weekend/ and Dec. 29th preview by Logan A. White for “Teens & Twenties”: http://teensandtwenties.com/storytelling-with-legends-american-in-paris-actor-talks-shop/; Jan. 5th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/dreamy-and-wistful-an-american-in-paris-charms-viewers-at-dpac/; Jan 4th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/an-american-in-paris/Event?oid=4995524; Jan 2nd Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Kathy Hanrahan for “What’s on Tap”: http://www.wral.com/it-s-like-a-painting-come-to-life-an-american-in-paris-comes-to-durham/16381501/; Dec. 31st Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Mary Cornatzer: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article123511139.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 3rd Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/an-american-in-paris-now-at-dpac-is-a-delightful-dance-heavy-musical-inspired-by-the-1951-film/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents AN AMERICAN IN PARIS at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5, 8 p.m. Jan. 6, 2 and 8 p.m. Jan. 7, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $40-$135. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/2212133.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/gallery-tour/.
THE TOUR: http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/an-american-in-paris–500946, https://www.facebook.com/AmericanInParisBway, https://twitter.com/AmericanInParis, and https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericanInParisBway.
TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/team-broadway-and-us-tour/.
DPAC‘S SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: http://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2016-17.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 7th, performance.
An American in Paris (1951 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/67241/An-American-in-Paris/ (Turner Classic Movies), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043278/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_in_Paris_%28film%29 (Wikipedia).
George Gershwin (Brooklyn, NY-born composer, 1898-1937): http://gershwin.com/ (official website), http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/project/george-gershwin-composer/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=5813 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006097/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin (Wikipedia).
Ira Gershwin (New York, NY-born lyricist, 1896-1983): http://gershwin.com/ (official website), http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/project/ira-gershwin-composer/ (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=6435 (Internet Broadway Database), (Internet Movie Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ira_Gershwin (Wikipedia).
An American in Paris (2014 Paris, 2015 Broadway, and 2017 West End musical): http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-show/an-american-in-paris-497694 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.facebook.com/AmericanInParisBway (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/AmericanInParis (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_in_Paris_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/AmericanInParisBway (YouTube).
Craig Lucas (Atlanta, GA-born playwright and screenwriter, 1951-): http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/project/craig-lucas-book-2/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/craig-lucas-4924 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craig_Lucas (Wikipedia).
Christopher Wheeldon (Broadway and tour director and choreographer): http://www.anamericaninparisbroadway.com/project/christopher-wheeldon-director-choreographer/ (tour bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/christopher-wheeldon-92604 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Wheeldon (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.