Review: An American in Paris at Broadway on Tour
It’s hard to imagine a musical better than An American in Paris now playing at the Community Center Theater. The 2015 multi-Tony-winning musical is part of the Broadway on Tour (formerly Broadway Sacramento) season and plays through Sunday.
This is a traditional Broadway musical, with a standard book by playwright Craig Lucas that varies but slightly from the 1951 movie of the same name, with music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. The plot is relatively thin—an American soldier remains in Paris at the end of World War II in 1945 to pursue his dream of becoming a painter and becomes enchanted with a mysterious young French woman. But, it's advanced through songs (“I've Got Rhythm,” “Shall We Dance?,” “But Not for Me,” “They Can't Take That Away From Me”) and interspersed with set pieces and fine dancing. Christopher Wheeldon, a well-respected ballet choreographer, directed and choreographed the play.
McGee Maddox, who plays the American soldier Jerry Mulligan, studied at the Houston Ballet's dance academy, danced with that organization and then became a principal dancer with the National Ballet of Canada. Allison Walsh, who plays love interest Lise Dassin (a role she understudied on Broadway), has danced soloist roles with the Joffrey Ballet. Caitlin Meighan, a member of the ensemble who danced the role of Lise in some performances here, danced 10 seasons with the Joffrey; Kyle Robinson, an ensemble member who sometimes danced the role of Jerry, is an alumnus of Juilliard Dance. Kevin A. Cosculluela, who is Lise's ballet partner in an especially beautiful sequence in the play, joined the Joffrey Ballet School at 17 and went on to dance with Tulsa Ballet Theatre.
Not only are they and others in the cast fine dancers, they can sing and act with the best of them. Other outstanding singers include Matthew Scott, who reprises his original Broadway role of Adam Hochberg (a pianist and Jerry's friend); Ben Michael, who plays Henri Baurel (a son of wealthy parents who support the arts but who wants to be a nightclub crooner); and Kirsten Scott, who plays rich American dilettante Milo Davenport. She has the hots for Jerry.
The cast and music alone would make this a superior Broadway show (how it lost the 2015 Tony for best musical to Fun Home is a mystery to me). But what pushes this production over the top is its staging and lighting, which did win Tony awards in those categories.
Designer Bob Crowley, who did the sets and costumes, creates an encompassing environment. The staging is a marvel of technical achievement with projections, videos and hardscapes precisely timed, making scene changes seamless. Natasha Katz's lighting design serves Crowley's vision. At the beginning, the entire stage is bathed in grayness, reflecting the dull fear and uncertainty that remained in the city immediately following the war. But the optimism of the young Americans, in particular, brings lightness to the scene. Crowley introduces brighter and brighter colors until one magnificent scene suggests a painting by Mondrian.
There are six performances remaining. You can hardly do better than seeing An American in Paris.