A New Musical Copying an Old Movie
A re-imagining of the old 1951 movie, An American in Paris is now on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. A combination of projected images and moving set pieces show how World War II devastated France. We are transported back to 1945, as the red and black swastikas come down and the French flag flies again. Jerry, an American soldier, decides to stay in Paris to become an artist rather than return home as the war ends. He makes friends with Adam, an American musician, who also decides to stay, not wanting to return home with his war injury. They meet up with Henri, a would be vocalist, who wants to go to the US to further his singing career, rather than work in the lucrative family business. All three men are in love with Lise, a budding ballerina. She loves Jerry, but feels an obligation to marry Henri, since his parents protected her during the war.
There are hints of a secret in act one, which is revealed in act two, making the plot much more interesting. I won’t reveal it for fear of spoiling the story. Unfortunately, act one seems slow, but the pace picks up as the plot is revealed.
While it’s based on the old movie, there are changes to the plot, which improve the story. Unfortunately, some of the 1940’s wisecracks are left in the dialogue, which aren’t as funny today.
This review may be unfair. I saw the Wednesday matinee, just before opening. But keep in mind that this is a touring production, so they are certainly not inexperienced. In fact, the cast seemed a little tired. Or perhaps, since it was just a Wednesday matinee, they weren’t giving their 100 percent. In any case, the big ensemble numbers seem lacklustre, which is very disappointing after seeing the flashy, energetic commercials on television.
The songs are Gershwin favourites. Many will be familiar: “I Got Rhythm”, “S’Wonderful”, and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” are marvelous old tunes. But in a cast of dancers, it seems their voices fell short.
As well, we did not see the star, McGee Maddox, in the role of Jerry. The alternate, Kyle Robinson, is scheduled to perform certain Wednesdays and all Saturday matinees. While Robinson is an amazing dancer, he doesn’t have the singing ability that the lead role demands.
Like many old musicals, there are dream scenes included. Henri is singing in a Paris night club, but dreams of starring in a big show in New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Ben Michael, as Henri, has a wonderful voice, and carries the dream well.
Later in the final ballet, Lise (Allison Walsh) dreams of dancing with Jerry. This ballet, with its avant garde choreography, is a highlight. Walsh and Robinson dance well together. The costumes are very eye-catching, created in a Mondrian style with squares of primary colours.
But overall, the pace seems slow, which is especially noticeable in a long (2 hours, 40 minutes) show. While the dancing is the specialty, some of the dance numbers go on a little too long. Other times, it seems to take forever to move set pieces around.
One final, but minor, plot point bothers me: Yes, I know Paris was destroyed by the war, but did they really need an American artist and an American musician to put together their ballet? I suspect that there would have been plenty of experienced, talented, and creative Parisians.
An American in Paris continues with eight shows a week at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto until April 29. Call Ticket King 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets
Photo: An American In Paris Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
An American in Paris
Book by Craig Lucas
Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin
Inspired by the motion picture
Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Musical score adapted, arranged and supervised Rob Fisher
Performed by McGee Maddox, Allison Walsh, Teri Hansen, Ben Michael, Kirsten Scott, Matthew Scott, Deanna Doyle, Kyle Robinson et al.
Produced by David Mirvish and Aubrey Dan
Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto
March 27 to April 29, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson