AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (Broadway Philadelphia): Put on your dancing shoes, watch your spirits climb

an-american-in-paris_1200x500_5This opulent production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is the opening show of the Broadway Philadelphia season at the Academy of Music. The Tony-winning musical is filled with great songs by the Gershwins strung along a romantic plot line (Craig Lucas provided the book), but this is primarily a dancing show. And do they ever dance.

Starring Garen Scribner as Jerry, the American who falls in love with Paris and Sara Esty as Lise, a gamin Parisian ballerina with a secret, their tangled romance is gorgeously choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon who also directed. Both Scribner and Esty are professional ballet dancers who can sing and act.

The plot begins in 1945 with the Arc de Triomphe as the backdrop; the City of Light has gone dark, but a crowd tears down a huge Nazi flag and replaces it with the French flag to celebrate the Liberation. Jerry, a soldier turned artist, decides not to return to America; he meets another American veteran, Adam (Etai Benson), a composer who is giving show biz lessons to Henri (Nick Spangler—the best singing voice in the show), heir to an industrial fortune. All three men fall in love with Lise.

This new show with its new stars pays loving tribute to the 1951 movie which starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, both very visible in the styles adopted by Scribner and Esty. Their superb pas de deux are sometimes sexy and sinuous, sometimes frisky and playful.

The visuals in the production are knockouts: wonderful 1940s costumes and a set that provides the streets of Paris, living Picasso paintings, quirky projections that provide locale after locale (both set and costumes were designed by the award-winning Bob Crowley).

The songs give us one gem after another: “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “But Not for Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (this turns into a dream production number worthy of Radio City Music Hall) and plenty more. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS is pretty much summed up by one lyric: “Put on your dancing shoes/Watch your spirits climb.”  If your dancing shoes aren’t quite up to the task, this show will do the trick.

[Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad Street] November 22-27, 2016kimmelcenter.org.

 

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.