“An American in Paris,” on stage at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford (N.Y.) through Nov. 24, has the kind of purebred pedigree that would make a French poodle proud. (Ticket info: 914-592-2222; BroadwayTheatre.com).
This show’s resplendent roots reach back nearly a century to a jazz-infused symphony by George Gershwin that was the basis for a 1951 MGM movie musical that won six Oscars, including Best Picture. The movie, an artistic triumph that was hugely popular at the box office, also earned an honorary Oscar for its multi-talented star and choreographer Gene Kelly. And the icing on the éclair is its ranking in the top 100 movies and top 10 movie musicals of all time by the American Film Institute.
Add to that embarrassment of riches a nostalgic treasure trove of standards by George and lyricist sibling Ira Gershwin that were not in the movie, plus a socially-conscious, pithy script by acclaimed playwright Craig Lucas, and — voila! — you have what justly can be called the champagne of jukebox musicals.
Supplementing the film’s famous numbers —such as “I Got Rhythm,” and “Stairway to Paradise” — are Gershwin gems “The Man I Love,” “But Not for Me,” “They Can’t Take that Away from Me,” and more.
S’WONDERFUL VOCAL ARRANGEMENTS
The orchestral and vocal arrangements on iconic songs such as “S’Wonderful” truly are wonderful; actors singing in rounds effectively layers the songs with a richer, more dramatic texture.
The story, set at the close of World War II, after Paris has been liberated from Nazi occupation, focuses on three artistically-inclined young men with great ambitions, in career and in romance. They all have their eyes on the same young woman, aspiring ballerina Lise Dassin (Deanna Doyle).
There’s American GI Jerry Mulligan (Brandon Haagenson) — the Gene Kelly role — who’s roaming Paris with his sketch pad, hoping to have his work accepted by an art gallery. He comes across fellow American Adam Hochberg (Tommaso Antico), a budding composer, and Frenchman Henri Baurel (Jonathan Young), heir to a textiles fortune who would rather be a nightclub entertainer.
Henri’s mother is pushing him to propose to Lise, whose personal history makes her feel indebted to his family, and to his mother’s wishes that they form a lifelong union. Revealing any more of the storyline — which is smart and quite substantive for what at its core is a song-and-dance show — would spoil the fun, so I’ll leave you with that amuse-bouche for now.
GENE KELLY VIBE
The roles of Jerry and Lise require considerable dancing skills. Deanna Doyle makes a suitably lithe Lise and Brandon Haagenson, particularly in his physical appearance, actually pulls off a Gene Kelly vibe, though at times it feels a tad cliched. The inimitable Mr. Kelly had a frisson of wiseguy that added to his already considerable charm. While nobody should be compared to a legend of his stature, I would have liked to see a little more swagger to Jerry.
There’s no shortage of swagger, though, in wise-cracking Adam Hochberg, played by Tommaso Antico. He makes a memorable first impression, investing his character with a strong, salty persona that captures the proverbial suffering young artist. I liked him right away. He’s the kind of guy with whom you can have a friendly conversation at the drop of a hat. Mr. Antico has Broadway vocal chops too.
Jonathan Young easily elicits our empathy as the confused, somewhat frustrated Henri. We feel for his plight.
Strong in their supporting roles are belter Lauren Sprague, as wealthy American philanthropist Milo Davenport, who makes an unabashed play for Jerry, and Erica Amato as Henri’s mother, Madame Baurel.
The WBT live orchestra is at full force for the show, with 10 musicians, directed by Ryan Edward Wise.
PAINTERLY STAGE FLOOR
The show’s scenic design (Steve Loftus) and costumes (Keith Nielsen) effectively exploit a “gay Paree” (read: joyous city) color palette, anchored by a stage floor covered in dappled brush strokes, paying homage to the French impressionist school of painting, notably that of Claude Monet.
Franco-friendly flourishes like that throughout the show — accented by beautifully choreographed dance interludes that play almost like silent mini-movies (lush music sans singing) — contribute to “An American in Paris” being one of the handsomest, tres chic productions in recent memory at Westchester Broadway Theatre.
Other noteworthy stagecraft is a huge French flag hanging aloft in the opening dance sequence (Gershwin’s “Concerto in F”) that suddenly drops to reveal Jerry Mulligan behind it, a dynamic River Seine rear-screen special effect, and an Eiffel Tower split backdrop that comes together for an iconic backdrop as the “American in Paris” ballet ends.
Swirl it all together, and you’ve got yourself a champagne jukebox musical, ready to uncork and savor.
The only thing missing is a character named Dom Perignon.