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Monday, April 17, 2017

An American In Paris (Smith Center)

The latest production of the Smith Center's Broadway series is An American in Paris, based on the fim of the same name from 1951, which appeared on the real Broadway in 2015-2016. In my review of the film I mentioned problems I had with it. I have problems with the stage musical, but they're different.

The core of the story is the same. A young G.I., Jerry Mulligan, stays in Paris after the war. He takes up painting and attracts the eye of a patron, Milo Davenport, an older woman who likes more than his brushstrokes. But Mulligan falls in love with a ballerina, Lise Dassin. But she's being pursed by the scion of a rich family, who is also Jerry's friend, but they don't know they're in love with the same woman until halfway through the show.

The major difference between the film and the play is the character played in the film by Oscar Levant, who was asexual comic relief. Here he is Adam Hochberg, much more debonair, a composer with a war wound who is also in love with Lise. So we add another angle and go from love triangle to love quadrangle. It makes for a confusing evening, as all three men look vaguely the same and except for Hochberg, played by Etai Benson, none of them exhibit much personality.

The play, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, is really about two things: dancing and the songs of George and Ira Gershwin (and, of course, the title concert piece by George Gershwin). As long as one focuses on those things this show is enjoyable, but when it isn't featuring either of those things is pretty dull. That's kind of amazing, as the book is by estimable playwright Craig Lucas, but the characters and their situation just aren't that interesting.

Notably, the show tries to be more realistic about post-war Paris. The musical opens with Gershwin's Concerto in F, while dancers show the miseries of the destroyed city, such as breadlines and what happened to collaborators. It's realistic, but it's not exactly a peppy opening.

The highlight of the film, as well as the play, is the very long ballet set to "An American in Paris," which is, aside from "Rhapsody in Blue," is George Gershwin's greatest creation. It's spectacular. The closing, "They Can't Take That Away From Me" is also good, but highlights the similarity of the three men, as they take the front of the stage. The songs cut from the film are sacrilegious--they add the beautiful "But Not For Me," but gone are "Embraceable You" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

I can see why this didn't last more than a year on Broadway. It just misses the spark of the film, even for guys like me who didn't like it much. Maybe it just lacks Gene Kelly.

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