A Broadway Musical Spotlight: An American in Paris

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How an Academy Award–winning musical film became a Tony Award–winning musical play.

A Broadway Musical Spotlight An American in Paris
From the left: Georges Guétary, Oscar Levant, and Gene Kelly.

There is a line in the trailer that goes, “Paris is a mood, a longing you didn’t know you had until it was answered. The French will have a word for it—c’est magnifique.”

Inspired from a jazz-influenced symphonic poem by George Gershwin in 1928 then made into a musical film in 1951 starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, An American in Paris was made into a musical play on Broadway and opened at the Palace Theater in April of 2015. Before closing in October 2016, this musical, a winner of multiple Tony Awards, is set to begin performances in London’s West End on March 2017.

The debut performance of French ballet dancer and ingénue Leslie Caron, who played the character Lise Dassin, was beautifully interpreted by English ballet dancer Leanne Cope, whose dancing on the stage was critically acclaimed. Gene Kelly’s character, the World War II veteran Jerry Mulligan, is played by Robert Fairchild, who is also an accomplished ballet dancer. An American in Paris also marks the debut of the pair on Broadway, and the actors’ stellar performances transport the audience to a world of love, romance, friendship, and dreams.

For a film that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1951, sixty years is a long time to finally adapt this hit musical movie for the stage. But the efforts were not in vain, for this classic story bagged four Tony Awards, three Outer Critics Circle Awards, a Drama League Award, two Theatre World Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, and an ACCA Award. Like the film, the Broadway play has smooth lines, elegant steps, really smooth jazz, and absolutely stunning costumes. Aside from the music, acting, and the set, what (or who) really brought the stage adaptation to life were Bob Crowley and his fantastic designs.

Not only is the musical chock full of amazing choreography, on-point performances, and a visually stunning set, the vintage outfits worn by the characters were brought to life with a magical mix of lycra and fabric that really defined the look and feel of the musical. Unbelievably chic, these costumes, like the play, are not a reproduction but were influenced by the play, and that allowed the interpretation that really helped bring the joy of An American in Paris from the silver screen to Broadway.

An American in Paris is a story of a WWII veteran, Jerry, who becomes a painter in Paris. He meets a society woman, Milo, who takes an interest in his art, and they have drinks at a club where he meets Lise, a ballet dancer. Lise, however, was engaged to be married to Jerry’s friend Henri because she felt indebted to him after saving her during WWII.  Jerry continues to court Lise while sharing his feelings for her with his friend Henri, not knowing she is the same woman. As Lise struggles to choose between Henri and her obligations and Jerry and her true love, she comes to terms with it, and Lise and Henri part ways. She then reunites with Jerry at the River Seine, and they walk off into the Paris night.

A beautiful and must-see musical, An American in Paris is something we can only hope will run for many years to come, and to quote the title from one of the songs in the musical to describe the experience, “s’wonderful.”

Reference

Wikipedia. 2017. “An American in Paris (musical).” Last modified January 20, 2017. Accessed on February 21. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_in_Paris_(musical).

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by Rosalie H. Contino, PhD