Pictured: Sara Esty (far left) and the Ensemble of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
By Abigail Trabue
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, the gorgeous, four-time Tony-Award winning musical based on the iconic movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, opened Tuesday night at Starlight Theatre, giving audiences an evening of powerhouse choreography danced by one of the strongest ensemble’s I’ve ever seen on a musical theater stage.
Set in Paris right after the end of World War II, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS tells the story of American soldier-turned artists Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) and secretive shop girl turned Prima Ballerina Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), both struggling to recover from the impact of war inside a city trying to rediscover itself after Nazi occupation. It’s an engaging and smart script, and book writer Craig Lucas has put together a story that beautifully compliments the beloved movie by giving us characters who care deeply about their world, and who you, in turn, deeply care about. Add in music and lyrics by the iconic George and Ira Gershwin, arranged by Rob Fisher, and top it off with direction and choreography by one of the most influential artists of our age, Christopher Wheeldon, and you have a production that will easily become one of the greatest pieces of musical theater ever produced, if it hasn’t already.
Wheeldon’s choreography is cohesive, strong and perfectly suited to a world brought stunningly to life by lighting designer Natasha Katz, Set and Costume Designer Bob Crowley and Projections Design by 59 Productions.
This is a beautiful musical filled with a company who excel in all areas, however, the night truly belongs to Esty. She is perfectly suited for Wheeldon’s choreography and fills every part of Lise with a graceful strength that makes her enchanting to watch on stage.
And while Esty does command the stage, she is not the only reason AN AMERICAN IN PARIS works. This is truly a full ensemble effort. Nick Spangler (Henri Baurel) is a vocal powerhouse giving Henri this charming and genuine quality that makes your heart swell time and time again. As our narrator, Etai Benson (Adam Hochberg) moves easily through conversations with us, and life inside the story. When he joins Spangler on stage for the show-stopping tap number “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” you can’t help but want to burst into applause. It is the perfect number at the perfect time, and man, can those guys tap.
Emily Ferranti (Milo Davenport) has a voice made to sing Gershwin. As Jerry Mulligan, Maddox has the technique and strength to dance through 2.5 hours of difficult Wheeldon choreography with legs that look as fresh in the end as they did in the beginning. As dancers, he and Esty are so well matched and their pas de deux inside the “An American in Paris” ballet took my breath away.
AN AMERICAN IN PARIS graces the Starlight Theatre stage until July 16th and is not to be missed. This is a production that truly is ‘S Wonderful.