The Broadway Philadelphia season at the Kimmel kicks off with an ecstatic version of An American in Paris. The show ended its Broadway run at the Palace Theater, in October and netted four Tony Awards. This touring production is an achievement in sound, sight, movement, and magic. It does Gene Kelly's Oscar-winning choreography from the 1951 film by the same name justice and then some.
The story is simple and quintessentially romantic. It's Post-WWII in Paris, and the creative class is shaking off the shackles of Nazi occupation. Artistic possibilities swell in every medium. An ex-pat vet, Jerry Mulligan (played extraordinarily by Garen Scribner), is a determined artist soaking up inspiration on the Seine when he finds Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), a Jew with a penchant for piano and songwriting. Mulligan, Hochberg, and aspiring singer and textile heir Henri Baurel form a peculiar trio of friends - and they all fall for Lise Dassin.
Dassin, a pixie shopgirl with ballet dreams, is performed charmingly by Sara Esty. Her allegiance to Baurel and his parents, for seemingly hiding her and protecting her from Nazi oppression, is tested by the immediate attraction between her and Jerry, who follows her to her shop counter and begs for a moonlight meeting. Their courtship is complicated primarily by a patron of the ballet company, Milo Davenport, where Dassin hopes to flourish. Davenport's mightiest asset is her checkbook, bringing up a huge theme - money can't buy you love. Here is a video of Jill Price as Milo Davenport in the Broadway production:
The sweeping, cosmopolitan soundscapes of the Gershwin brothers thrill. "I Got Rhythm," " 'S Wonderful," Rhapsody in Blue, "Fidgety Feet," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," and "They Can't Take That Away From Me" are all here. Set and costume designer Bob Crowley, who won a Tony for scenic design, makes magic happen at the Academy - complex and awe-inspiring, his sets innovatively employ projections to create cityscapes that look alive. And Christopher Wheeldon's choreography is eye-poppingly charming. This is a musical that requires - and has - a cast of world-class ballet dancers who can also sing and act. Here is the Tony Award clip of the show:
An American in Paris is what Broadway musicals should be: romantically charged, visually arresting, stunningly performed, grandly scored, and ambitiously staged. In contrast to the threat of fascism that shadows The Sound of Music, in American the yoke of oppression is lifted - and the magic of art comes singing in its place.