Friday, November 18, 2016

CT Theater Review: An American in Paris -- The Bushnell

Sara Esty and Garen Scribner. Photo: Matthew Murphy
An American in Paris
Music By music and lyrics of George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Book by Craig Lucas.at The Bushnell through Nov. 20

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The stunning stage adaptation inspired by the 1951 Oscar winning film of the same name starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron about World War II veteran in Paris. This tour of the recently-closed Broadway musical which won four 2015 Tony Awards features Sara Esty and Garen Scribner who performed these leading roles on Broadway dancing the exquisite choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, artistic associate at England's Royal Ballet, who also directs.

Storytelling is done through the dance. Whole scenes, wordless, are communicated through movement which can include something as complicated as ballet or as simple as someone dancing a prop onto the stage. Wheeldon's direction is genius as well as he takes unconnected scenes happening simultaneously on stage and somehow connects the participants. It's exciting and riveting stage craft.

Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza) translates the light movie plot into a solid story that is propelled by the elements around it. Three men, artist Jerry Mulligan (Scribner) singer Henri Baurel (Broadway vet Nick Spangler) and a composer, Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), become fast friends then, without realizing it, they all fall in love with the same girl, ballerina Lise Dassin (Esty).

Henri already is engaged to Lise, the choice of his parents, Madame and Monsieur Baurel (Gayton Scott and Don Noble), who have protected the girl during the war and made it possible for her to follow in her famous ballerina mother's toe shoes. The heir to the family's textile business, Henri begs his friends to keep his passion to be a musical entertainer from his parents.

Jerry forms an alliance with wealthy American, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who becomes a supporter of his artwork and who wants a little more than paintings in exchange for her patronage. Adam, meanwhile, is unable to express his love for the beautiful Lise except through his music.

What Are The Highlights?
Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Need I say more? Adapted, arranged and supervised by Rob Fisher. “I Got Rhythm,” “'S Wonderful,” a very moving “But Not For Me,” “I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and orchestral music including “Concerto in F,” “2nd Prelude,” “2nd Rhapsody” and “An American In Paris" all sound as though they were written just for this story (with an excellent team taking care of the music: Christopher Austin and Bill Elliott (orchestrations); Todd Ellison (musical supervisor); David Andrews Rogers (musical director/conductor); Sam Davis (dance arrangements). It's always fun to watch the conductor smile throughout the show. And so do we thanks to an excellent sound mix (Jon Weston, design).

The choreography and direction, as mentioned above, are brilliant.

The fabulous sets by Bob Crowley (who also does the meticulously created costumes) that appear -- with the help of projections (designed by 59 Projections) and lighting (designed by the always excellent Natasha Katz). Locations and sketches leaping off Jerry's artistic pad appear before our eyes.

Esty and Scribner are delightful to watch and Esty lends a lovely soprano to her role. Spangler has a dreamy baritone and should be considered for leading-man roles.

What Are the Lowlights?
The ending ballet is set to a backdrop of colorful shapes, but doesn't convey a sense of what is happening and the storytelling seems to stop so an extended ballet can be performed.

Scott misses the mark as Henri's emotionless mother and some humor is lost.

While the tunes are favorites, audience members are humming along (the guy near me was very off-tune throughout the show) and the intermission seemed very long.

More Information:
The show runs through Sunday. Pirouette over to the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, to experience this terrific musical. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets are $43.50-$119.50: bushnell.org; 860-987-5900

The musical received its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

Leigh-Ann Esty and Ryan Steele perform the roles of Lise and Jerry at certain performances. Additional cast: Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Stephen Brower, Randy Castillo, Jessica Cohen, Jace Coronado, Barton Cowperthwaite, Alexa De Barr, Ashlee Dupré, Erika Hebron, Christopher M. Howard, Colby Q. Lindeman, Nathalie Marrable, Tom Mattingly, Caitlin Meighan, Alida Michal, Don Noble, Sayiga Eugene Peabody, Alexandra Pernice, David Prottas, Danielle Santos, Lucas Segovia, Kyle Vaughn, Laurie Wells, Dana Winkle, Erica Wong and Blake Zelesnikar.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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