Review: ‘An American in Paris’ offers timeless perfection | OUTInPerth

An American in Paris | Crown Theater | Until July 24 | ★★★★★

An American in Paris began life as a musical in 1951 when MGM executive Arthur Freed, after purchasing the rights to many songs written by George and Ira Gershwin, commissioned a new musical which was built around their catalog back.

Taking its name from George Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition, the musical features many of the brother’s best-loved songs, including I’ll build a stairway to heaven, S’Wonderful and I have rhythm. Starring Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant, the film also featured an impressive screen debut from Lesie Caron and was directed by the legendary Vincente Minnelli.

In 2014, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon developed the work as a musical. Working with his collaborators, the story was slightly adjusted, additional songs from Gershwin’s songbook were added, and a whole new musical experience was born.

The production evokes memories of all the great musicals of the 1930s and 1940s, films filled with stories of crossed wires and misunderstandings, comedic relationships and culture clashes. Lively guys and savvy girls who start to despise each other, but end up falling in love.

It’s reminiscent of the movies that made stars of Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly and Judy Garland. If you have a weakness for the original American in Paris movie, or spent a rainy Sunday afternoon watching The Barkleys of Broadway, Brigadoon or any other classic Hollywood musical, you will find this production simply divine and utterly faultless.

Unlike modern musicals that rely on a torrent of rain, upside down dancing chimney sweeps, ghosts, flying cars or helicopters, big name casts or people dressed as felines, this show is just filled with performances perfect singing and dancing.

In post-war Paris, recently demobilized soldier Jerry Mulligan decides to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. He meets fellow American pianist Adam Hochberg who organizes a cabaret show with Frenchman Henri. Henri is the son of wealthy parents and his artistic endeavors are carried out in secret, fearing his parents’ disapproval.

Mulligan meets the philanthropist Milo Davenport who takes an interest in his work and introduces him to Madame Baurel, the patroness of the ballet who earns him the commission to create sets for the new production of the ballet. He also becomes smitten with the new ballerina Lise Dassin. The characters don’t realize that they are related in many different ways, which has caused comedy and confusion.

There are some great production numbers in this show, a perfect blend of great song and dance numbers, and tender intimate moments. Revised story includes well-known songs I got rhythm, I got beginner’s luck, the man I love, S’Wonderful, and I will build a stairway to heaven and wonderful stagings of lesser-known Gershwin songs like Restless feet.

In some cases, the songs have grown over the decades to become so well known that in the context of this story, they feel underplayed. When Lise sings “Un jour il venir, l’homme qu’aime”, it is perfectly in context and in the style of the story, but has none of the gravity of some of the recordings of the song which have been delivered over the years. In the same way I’ll take a stairway to heaven is delivered as a comedy tune, losing all of the ambition, power and inspiration that many of the tune’s highly regarded performances embody.

The show is fabulous and faultless. The dance is based on ballet movements, filled with power, grace and style, the costumes and sets are breathtaking and the singing of perfect perfection.

The show features two sets of protagonists taking on the demanding roles. On opening night in Perth, Cameron Holmes was suave and earnest Jerry Mulligan, while Dimity Azoury took our breath away as Lise Dassin. Leanne Cope and Robbie Fairchild also star.

Sam Ward was comical and endearing as Henry, Ashleigh Rubenach was perfectly cast as the outspoken Milo Davenport, and Jonathan Hickey guided audiences through his journey as Adam Hochberg. Anne Wood was suitably stern as Madame Baurel and a hard-nosed cast brought the streets, cafes, jazz clubs and riverbanks of Paris to life.

See An American in Paris at the Crown Theatre.

Graeme Watson

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