An American in Paris


The first thing you notice is the exquisite movement, because this musical isn’t just about the music, but the dancing.  Yes, it’s the touring show of the 2015 Tony-Award winning Broadway play.  But these are ballet artists, not only the principals, but also the backup dancers, whose movements are graceful, even moving props or the portable screens that suggest a set change. 

Speaking of set design, there’s a projection screen in the back which is also utilized cleverly, both to provide backdrop for the lean, spare stage props, but also to help the viewer envisage the stage turned around, with the actors playing to an imaginary audience on the other side, while we’re suddenly positioned backstage without having to leave our seats.  It’s a clever construct, but all of this only supplements the real story, which is a love quadrangle.

Lise (Sara Esty) is a young French woman just emerging from the horror of World War II, and the Nazi occupation of her beloved Paris.  Her parents were arrested and not heard from again.  She was in hiding, and is so grateful to the wealthy family that she’s engaged to their grown son, Henri (Nick Spangler).  But their relationship is somehow tenuous, as Henri is really more focused on his goal of being an entertainer in America.  Plus, it appears that he might actually be more interested in someone of his own gender, but since this story was originally filmed in 1951 (starring Gene Kelly), that part is more implied than stated.

Enter two American soldiers, who somehow get to just drop out of the service and not have to go home with their units (or even be billeted as part of the occupation force).  The caustic Etai (Adam Hochberg) gets to introduce the show, as the piano player at the bar, and aspiring lyricist.  He’s inspired by Lise, and writes music with her in mind, considering her his Muse, and though she’s grateful for the attention, the flower she presents to him with kisses on both cheeks really is more platonic than Etai wants.  He keeps hoping she’ll be as enthralled by him as he is by her.  But even we can see that’s not happening.

Enter the other American soldier, an aspiring artist named Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner), who also quickly becomes enamored by the lovely Lise, and manages to get her to pose for a sketch, ever so briefly, and then, when she is impressed by his artistic talent, he manages to get her to meet him in a nearby park regularly, just for a few more moments of sketching.  He’s smitten by her, and hopes for their relationship to blossom, but she’s conflicted because of her kind-of-engagement, and further conflicted by realizing that she doesn’t feel any passion for Henri.  But she does care for him, and is that what love is?

All these cross-currents of emotion then get interpreted in the dancing, which is always expressive, but sometimes graceful, sometimes playful, and on occasion, vigorous and strongly emotive. 

Yes, there’s also some singing, but this one is really more about the dancing, to that distinctive Gershwin music, a score both as homage and interpretive expression.  Oh, and the orchestra is fantastic, as well.

It’s a feast for the eyes and the ears.  And suitable for the whole family.  Make an attempt to see this one, it’s well worth the effort. 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Have you ever had a “Muse” who spurred your creativity?

2)                  Have you ever thought that you loved more than one person at once?  How did that turn out?

3)                  Have you ever confused love with other emotions, like gratitude?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association