by Lynn on April 10, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Book by Craig Lucas

Inspired by the Motion Picture.

Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon

Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin

Set and costumes by Bob Crowley

Projections by 59 Productions

Lighting by Natasha Katz

Sound by Jon Weston

Cast: Deanna Doyle

Teri Hansen

McGee Maddox

Ben Michael

Kirsten Scott

Matthew Scott

Kyle Robinson

Alison Walsh

American In Paris is blessed with a lush score by George and Ira Gershwin, beautiful choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, snappy dancing by the company, a terrific design because of the collaboration of Bob Crowley and 59 Productions but the singing could be stronger and some acting is weak.

 The Story. It’s 1945, Paris, and the end of WWII. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) has just gotten out of the American army and is free and easy in Paris. He is a painter who is struck by all the beauty he can draw, sketch and paint.

One beauty is a young woman he sees and quickly sketches, but she disappears before he can introduce himself to her. He chases after her, gets a glimpse of her, then she disappears again. Through happy coincidence he finally meets her at the store where she works. Her name is Lise Dassin (Allison Walsh). She a dancer and Jerry is smitten.  There are complications (as there always are) and other suitors (ditto), and secrets that are dangerous to reveal. You know how it will turn out which is no surprise. It’s just lovely to see how all that dancing and singing play out to the inevitable end.

The Production. American in Paris is billed as “a new musical.” I guess somebody doesn’t want us to reference the 1951 movie which is reasonable. But Craig Lucas’ stylish book does slyly reference the movie, so what’s a person to do. For example, there is a character named Adam Hochberg who is an American in Paris (Lise actually calls him that). He is a struggling pianist and our narrator. He makes a few jokes about Oscar Levant who was a pianist, actor, and bon vivant. In the 1951 movie Oscar Levant played Adam (insider info or what?).

The Gershwin score (George wrote the music and Ira wrote the lyrics) is pure joy. There are 17 numbers in the show and I count at least eight hit songs that are classics. And there are no reprises! Unheard of in 2018, or perhaps I’ve just been benumbed by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Christopher Wheeldon, dancer-choreographer extraordinaire has captured the vibrancy and life of Paris in his graceful, elegant, energetic choreography. It’s full of joy and romance.

If there is another star, besides the score, it’s Bob Crowley’s design, especially the sets. This is a perfect melding of Crowley’s spare set pieces that beautifully collaborate with the animation graphics of 59 Productions. A simple structure floats on stage and then line images are projected onto the structure filling in the rest of the building, location, bar, artwork etc. The scenes by the Seine in which the rippling river is created are simply jaw dropping.

There are times however I find all the moving in and out of scenery and the lines filling in blanks to be on the cusp of too much, but one has to marvel at the imagination of it. Crowley also designed the costume and the same dazzle he used in the costumes for The Audience, when the Queen did quick changes on stage in front of us (sort of) in a matter of seconds, is also used here. Lise is on stage and does a quick change which has one shaking one’s head wondering how that trick is done.

The dancing is splendid from top to bottom. I wish the same could be said of the singing. McGee Maddox as Jerry has a sturdy middle register but not a strong, secure upper register. As Henri Baurel, Matthew Scott sounds raspy in any register, but dances well. Allison Walsh is like a gamin feather as Lise, agile, lithe and graceful. The acting of the company is serviceable.

Comment. An American in Paris is that feel good kind of musical with a score that earns much of the credit for that good feeling. Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography creates the energy and sophistication of Paris and the joy and ache of the lovers. For these alone, it’s worth a visit.

David Mirvish and Aubrey Dan present:

Began: March 27, 2018.

Closes: April 29, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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