There’s been more than one “new (i.e. jukebox) Gershwin musical” before An American In Paris’s 2015 Broadway debut, but there’s never been one as gloriously song-and-dance-packed (emphasis on dance) as the gorgeously choreographed and designed quadruple Tony winner, a veritable feast of color and light and ballet and tap and more.

Book writer Craig Lucas’s ingeniously tweaked adaptation of the 1951 MGM movie musical classic transports us to the titular City Of Lights at the end of its darkest hour.

The year is 1945, and Paris is still shrouded in black when just-discharged aspiring painter Jerry Mulligan (alternate Ryan Steele on Opening Night) decides to stick around for inspiration in a darkly dramatic, entirely danced opening sequence set to Gershwin’s “Concerto In F,” one featuring baguette lines, vengeance on a Nazi collaborator, and Jerry’s first glimpse of shop girl/ballerina Lise (Sara Esty) as swastikas get torn down, the French flag flies again, and Paris is awash in glorieux Technicouleur once more.

A chance encounter with Jewish-American songwriter Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson) not only provides Jerry with his first American-in-Paris friend, the ballet rehearsal pianist’s suggestion that our hero come sketch the dancers has him meeting—and falling for—the brunette pixie who’d previously caught his eye.

Also in attendance is American heiress Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), so taken by Jerry that she suggests that the fledgling artist design a new ballet to be composed by Adam, danced by Lise, and financed by her own deep pockets.

Unfortunately for Milo, Jerry’s affections lie with Lise, and sadly for Jerry, the object of his infatuation (and of Adam’s as well) happens to be dating a textile fortune heir named Henri (Nick Spangler) who’d rather be a Broadway song-and-dance man than join the family business.

Engaging as this storyline may be, if there’s anything that earned An American In Paris its ten Tony nominations (and a Best Choreography win for director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon), it’s its multitude of dances, from balletic to jazz to tap, some them set to Gershwin in classical mode (most famously the titular seventeen-minute ballet), others adding fancy footwork to George-and-Ira pop gems.

Two of An American In Paris’s three other Tony wins were for design, and justifiably so, since rarely if ever has a Broadway musical been as drop-dead French Impressionist gorgeous as this one thanks to scenic designer Bob Crowley (working in tandem with fellow Tony winner 59 Production’s projections) and Natasha Katz’s dazzling, Tony-winning lighting.

Taking Jerry’s sketches as inspiration, the designers have created an exquisite animated backdrop of Parisian exteriors and interiors that get outlined and colored in before our eyes, projected on the proscenium-filling upstage screen and downstage flats moved about (along with assorted set pieces) by cast members incapable of moving without a dancer’s grace, and sporting costume designer Crowley’s breathtaking period wear throughout.

Still, no matter how magnificently designed, there’d be no An American In Paris without its Gershwin score, cleverly inserted jukebox style as when Jerry declares “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” at meeting Lise, who dreams of meeting “The Man I Love,” or when a bored Jerry’s “Fidgety Feet” at a pretentious dance recital soon gets the entire room a-dancing.

Above all, Wheeldon’s choreography reigns supreme, and never more so than when Steele, Esty, and the entire company execute the non-stop seventeen minutes of athleticism and grace that is the “An American In Paris Ballet.”

As Lise, Esty not only shows off accomplished prima ballerina training, her vocals are as lovely as her acting. Benson’s acerbic charmer of an Adam and Ferranti’s sophisticated, snappy-pattered Milo duet “But Not For Me” with vocals to match Broadway’s best, and though Adam limps from a war wound, his dream self does not alongside Spangler’s golden-throated Louis Jourdan-suave Henri in the tap-shoes-tapping, Rockettes-kicking “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise.” And Ferranti’s statuesque, silky-voiced Milo is simply fabulous as well, as are Gayton Scott and Don Noble’s featured turns as Henri’s snooty Parisian parents.

As for An American In Paris’s ensemble, they more than merit the term triple-threat throughout, earning Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Alexa De Barr, Leigh-Ann Esty, Caitlin Meighan (Returning Soldier’s Wife), Don Noble (Store Manager), Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Bradley Schlagcheck (Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner), Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn (Mr. Z), Laurie Wells (Olga), Dana Winkle, Erica Wong, and Blake Zelesnikar their own standing ovation.

Still, the performance Segerstrom Opening Nighters will be raving about and telling their friends not to miss is Steele’s*. Not only is the tall, blond, and leading-man handsome four-time Broadway vet a terrific actor/singer and likeable as all get-out, he executes the most challenging balletic moves as if they were child’s play. For this reviewer at least, Steele’s is the triple-threat touring performance of the year.

The production sounds as gorgeous as it looks thanks to Rob Fisher’s musical score adaptation, arrangement, and supervision; music director David Andrews Rogers conducting a symphonic-sounding live orchestra; and Jon Weston’s crystal-clear sound design.

Dontee Kiehn is associate director/associate choreographer and Sean Maurice Kelly is associate choreographer/resident director.

Kenneth J. Davis is production stage manager and Rick Steiger is production supervisor.

An American In Paris had me in its spell from my first glimpse of a City Of Light in postwar darkness and held me there all the way up to its magical, picture-perfect, uber-romantic final fadeout. You won’t see a more exquisite National Tour this year.

*Steele plays Jerry matinees April 29 and 30 and May 4 and 6

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Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
April 25, 2017
Photos: Matthew Murphy


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