Published: Monday, November 06, 2017 @ 6:00 AM
Updated: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 11:13 AM
By: Russell Florence Jr. - Contributing Writer
— It’s wonderful how dynamic the latest national tour of “An American in Paris” is in its Broadway-caliber regional premiere courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series.
Inspired by the 1951 Academy Award-winning film memorably choreographed by Gene Kelly with songs by George and Ira Gershwin, the show weaves exemplary components of song, dance and technology in its gorgeous blend of musical theater and ballet. Here are five reasons why you should see this entertaining and romantic confection set in 1945 Paris at the end of World War II continuing through Sunday, Nov. 12 at the Schuster Center.
1. A STORY OF FRIENDSHIP, LOVE AND WAR
Following the liberation of France, U.S. Army Lieutenant Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox dancing with skillful finesse) plans to head home, but chooses to stay having been smitten by lovely ballerina Lise Dassin (simply stunning Allison Walsh).
Jerry, an aspiring painter, soon makes friends with fledgling composer Adam Hochberg (a comical yet nuanced Matthew Scott) and wealthy Henri Baurel (fittingly sophisticated Ben Michael), but can’t get Lise off his mind.
Even when he’s devastated to learn Lise is engaged to Henri, he vows to win her heart, desperately hoping for some good to come of his life after experiencing the horrors of war.
“The show is about the characters’ struggle to find life, to find love, to find happiness again after this dark period,” said director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. “The movie was made in the early ‘50s and the war was still very fresh, so Paris was treated in a kind of hyper-unrealistic way.
With the distance of time, there was so much more we could do. We had the freedom to place Paris in a more realistic, historical context, and talk about what the city was like after the Nazis left, and how romance and art and music were balm to the wounds. Paris behaves as a character in the show and we see the city open up and breathe again.”
2. THE TIMELESS MUSIC HITS
George and Ira Gershwin’s timeless hits include such gems as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “But Not For Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
George’s orchestral works, particularly “Concerto in F,” “Second Rhapsody” and “Cuban Overture,” also propel the story to great effect.
“Gershwin is so cool,” said Maddox, former principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada who began dancing at the age of 3. “It’s not a challenge to feel cool and sexy at the end of the evening having danced to his music. George was a rock star in his day. When you listen to his music, you really feel that early jazz essence.”
3. TREMENDOUS CHOREOGRAPHY
Wheeldon duly won the Tony Award for Best Choreography and his remarkable routines ranging from tap to jazz are worth the price of admission.
The sheer storytelling flair of dramatic opener “Concerto in F” is notable in addition to the playful restlessness of “Fidgety Feet,” Maddox and Walsh’s expert partnering in “Liza,” the razzle dazzle of “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” (featuring a knockout transition from a small nightclub to the lavish stage of Radio City Music Hall), and the thrilling titular Act 2 ballet (colorfully bathed in red, white, blue, yellow and black).
“In some way Gene Kelly has influenced every male dancer,” Maddox said. “Anytime I’m on stage, I like to feel as if I’m representing Gene Kelly but also Baryshnikov, Nureyev and all the greats that came before me. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. But Christopher Wheeldon is brilliant. There was certainly risk involved with this show, but knowing the show itself is pretty much encompassed by the dance, and the dance is really the shining moment of this musical, speaks to Christopher’s fearlessness as an artist.”
4. YOU WILL FEEL LIKE YOU’RE IN PARIS
The technical, digital landscape of theater design continues to rapidly evolve, specifically enabling projection designers to imaginatively enhance any environment or set pieces. In this instance, 59 Productions completely heightens the look and feel of Paris to astounding degrees. Streets, cafés, boulangeries, the Seine and more vividly appear throughout as if drawn like a painting. It is a marvel. In fact, 59 Productions duly shared the Tony for Best Scenic Design with Bob Crowley, who also designed costumes.
5. THE PEDIGREE
Nominated for 12 Tonys in 2015 including Best Musical, “An American in Paris” was named Outstanding Musical by the Drama League and Outstanding New Musical by the Outer Critics Circle.
The cast album, featuring Muse Machine alumna Jill Paice of Beavercreek as Milo Davenport, received a Grammy nomination.
“There’s so much familiar music in this show, but when you juxtapose that with Christopher’s neo-classical choreography, it makes it a pretty refreshing show,” Maddox said. “This is a show old and young people can enjoy together.”
WANT TO GO?
What: “An American in Paris”
When: Now showing through Sunday, Nov. 12.
Where: Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton
Tickets: $25 -$98. Student and military discounts are available. Get tickets online at TicketCenterStage.com, at the Box Office, or by phone at 937-228-3630 or 888-228-3630.
NOTE: Saturday matinee performances of Broadway Series presentations are signed and/or audio interpreted. Please let the ticket agent know at least two weeks before the performance if you would like either of these services when you order your tickets at Ticket Center Stage.