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Broadway Across America’s Lavish An American in Paris

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Broadway Across America’s Lavish An American in ParisAn American in Paris plays at the Ohio Theatre through March 11.
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The touring Broadway production of An American in Paris, the Broadway adaptation of the 1951 Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron classic, opened in Columbus Tuesday in dazzling production at the Ohio Theatre. This 2015 re-imagining by the director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon grafted a new book by Craig Lucas (adapted from the original screenplay by Alan Jay Lerner) onto the songs of George and Ira Gershwin.

An American in Paris sticks to the broad strokes of the film. A GI and painter, Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) stays in Paris after WWII instead of heading home. Quickly, he falls into the company of two friends, a fellow veteran and concert pianist/composer Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott) and French textile scion and wannabe cabaret singer Henri Baurel (Ben Michael). In short order, the two expats fall for rising ballet singer Lise Dassin (Allison Walsh) for whom Henri has carried a torch since childhood. The extra layer of that love triangle is American social climber and would-be patron Milo Davenport (Kirsten Scott). Milo commissions a piece for Adam to write, Lise to dance, and Jerry to design; and connects Jerry to the Parisian art scene by way of seducing him.

Lucas’ book injects emotional reality into the proceedings, imbuing it with the shell-shocked atmosphere of a place and people that have just been through a war. At some points, the strategy pays off with the frenetic energy of people celebrating as though they could die tomorrow. In other places, it’s a touch too dry and dour.

A scene from An American in Paris, playing at the Ohio Theatre through March 11.

A scene from An American in Paris, playing at the Ohio Theatre through March 11.

My chief problem with the book is the character of Adam Hochberg. He comes across too much like a punch line and not enough like a wry observer who wandered in. That said, Matthew Scott plays the character to the hilt. His commiseration with Kirsten Scott’s Milo as always on the outside of the true connection they want, culminating in a rendition of one of the greatest Gershwin songs, “But Not For Me,” is a highlight of the show. Kirsten Scott’s reclaiming of Milo from the predatory cartoon of the original is a delight throughout.

The shuffling of songs is a mixed bag and maybe jarring for obsessive fans of the original film. It works beautifully in tender moments, like  “Who Cares?” given a breathtaking read by Kirsten Scott and Ben Michael. Maddox’s “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” feels like filler…until he dances (in an arrangement by Sam Davis) and all is forgiven. “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” get fresh, interesting spins.

This An American in Paris finds its greatest successes in bringing to fruition Gene Kelly’s vision of a popular, accessible art form with real dance. Wall-to-wall extraordinary dancing fills this production. The ballet Milo commissioned (to the eponymous Gershwin piece) is one of the most dazzling large-scale dances I’ve ever seen in a musical. Casting classical dancers for Jerry and Lise – Maddox came up out of the Houston Ballet and The National Ballet of Canada and Walsh was a soloist with Joffrey Ballet – pays off big. The ease of their bodies when they dance as the tension and neurosis of the characters’ day-to-day lives melts off is intoxicating and underlines the point of the show: music and magic are everywhere. Sometimes we need to look harder, but that wild delight and that suspense are always under the surface.

Those doses of classic razzle-dazzle that only this many people on a stage with a sure hand and big sets (including dazzling projections by 59 Productions) are abundant in An American in Paris. If you’re a fan who leans harder to the dance side of Broadway, this is an absolute must-see.

An American in Paris runs through March 11 with 7:30 p.m. shows Wednesday and Thursday, an 8:00 p.m. show on Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. shows on Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. shows on Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit columbus.broadway.com.

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