“An American in Paris,” the new musical at the Community Center Theater, is one of the most dazzling, entertaining pieces of theater in…well, a long, long time.
With music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin, it features some of the best tunes in the American songbook, songs such as “The Man I Love,” “I Got Rhythm,” “Shall We Dance” and “But Not for Me,” to name just a few.
Based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name (but with several changes by Craig Lucas, who wrote the musical’s book), “An American in Paris” tells the romantic story of an American soldier and a mysterious French girl in Paris just after the end of World War II. The play is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon — and what wonderful choreography it is. Wheeldon was nominated for best director and best choreography of a musical and won for best choreography. The play also won the Tony for best scenic design, best lighting design and for orchestration.
McGee Maddox stars as Jerry Mulligan, the American soldier free to go back home to the States but decides to stay in Paris to pursue his art – and to find that beguiling stranger he saw upon his arrival. Allison Walsh stars as Lise Dassin, the elusive young woman.
Jerry and Lise are brought together when Jerry’s pal, an aspiring composer named Adam Hochberg (the ingratiating Matthew Scott, reprising the role he played on Broadway), invites Jerry to accompany him to a ballet rehearsal where he plays piano to perhaps sketch the dancers. Lise, it turns out, is a dancer who shows up (late) for rehearsal. Both Jerry and Adam have a crush on Lise – but so does Henri (Ben Michael), whose parents help fund the ballet. There is a marvelous scene in which the three men sing “S’Wonderful” together, each unknowingly singing about the same woman.
The plot is pretty much romantic musical standard, but with a few kinks and turns. A happy ending is never guaranteed; at least two men are bound to be disappointed.
Although it is primarily a romance, the play doesn’t shy away from some of the tougher topics of the time – allegations of collaborating with the occupying Nazis as well as the difficulties of some of those who secretly resisted by harboring Jewish families and friends from persecution. For the opening scene in which Paris still seems gripped by fear and mistrust, designer Bob Crowley bathes the entire stage and projected streets and cityscape in dull grayness. Later, he will brighten the scenes with ingenious backdrops of the Seine with two floating boats and brilliant colors suggesting the paintings of Mondrian.
Buildings and scrims fly on- and off-stage as easily as dancers (some of whom boast ballet credentials – and show it). Video projections are ingenious and timed to the second. This must be the most technically proficient production on the road today.
“An American in Paris” is at the Community Center Theater, 1301 L St., through May 27. Performances will be at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 8 p.m. next Tuesday-Saturday and 2 p.m. next Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (final performance). Tickets range from $25-$97 depending upon performance and seat selection.
For more information and to purchase tickets, call (916) 557-1999 or go to broadwaysacramento.com.
Photo by Matthew Murphy