For the second time this month, Broadway welcomes a stage adaptation of a movie musical directed by Vincente Minnelli. “An American in Paris,” while full of gorgeous ballet numbers, doesn’t fare quite as well as “Gigi”—the story is comparatively listless.
New York City ballet dancer Robert Fairchild and Royal Ballet School alumna Leanne Cope are surely both gorgeous to watch in this new take on the 1951 film, about an American solider who tears up his ticket home at the end of World War II and decides to settle in Paris (events transpire a few years earlier than they did in the movie).
Struggling songwriter Adam (Brandon Uranowitz)—one of three men vying for the attentions of Cope’s beautiful Lise Dassin—introduces the musical, explaining that the city is rebuilding after the occupation, and that rebirth is in the air. As fighter jets fly overhead, a Nazi flag is torn down and an enormous tricolore covers the stage, finally revealing Jerry Mulligan (Fairchild) as it flutters away.
“An American in Paris” feels like a ballet with a narrative trying to make itself heard. Jerry spies Lise on a breadline, and spends much of the first act courting her. Fairchild’s first big number, “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” has him dancing around the shop where Lise works, and it’s about as fizzy as things get.
The characters in Craig Lucas’s script aren’t developed enough to really endear themselves to the audience. Adam is self-effacing. Jerry is perpetually upbeat. Lise is wounded and humorless; her parents are presumed to have died at the hands of the Nazis, and she’s preparing to marry Henri Baurel (Max von Essen), whose family sheltered her during the war.
Fairchild is lithe and charismatic—the talent is a familial trait; his sister, Megan, also an NYCB principal, is “Miss Turnstiles” in “On The Town.” Cope is moody, sweet and sensitive, as when she is scolded for being late to ballet class, but works her way back into her instructor’s graces. (The duo are pictured below.)
Broadway vet Veanne Cox, a former ballet dancer, is ultra-serious as Henri’s mother, who hints at her son’s homosexuality even as she persuades him to marry Lise. Jill Paice (“The 39 Steps”) has a regal quality as Milo Davenport, the self-appointed arts patron who wants to buy Jerry’s affections.
The musical concludes with a surreal, nearly quarter-hour ballet set to Gershwin’s composition “An American in Paris.” I was never quite sure how Adam worked through his feelings for Lise, or how things pan out for Henri or Milo.
The timeless score includes the Gershwin songs “I Got Rhythm,” performed by the three male leads, and “'S Wonderful.” Director and renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon works magic with near showstoppers such as Von Essen’s big second-act number, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” but in many other places the dancing seems almost too much.
Bob Crowley’s design, combining moving set pieces and graphics (by 59 Productions) to convey a bridge over the Seine or the interior of the Galeries Lafayette, is magnificent—Jerry is an aspiring painter and it’s easy for audiences to imagine that what we see on a projection is just what he’s putting down on his pad.
“An American in Paris,” with an open-ended run at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway. Tickets: $47-$147. Call Ticketmaster, 800-745-3000.