A Gershwin of a Show

 

An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

An American in Paris

4 stars

Five years ago this highly-anticipated stage version of the 1951 Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron musical film classic burst upon Broadway. After playing Paris, New York and the West End, and launching a two-year National Tour that played Chicago, we finally have our own regional production.

It is truly magnificent. It’s elegant, romantic, gorgeously produced and beautifully danced and sung. For anyone who adores those classic movie musicals and big, old-fashioned, splashy theatrical productions, this is the show for you.

This adaptation is the fine work of playwright Craig Lucas, but the show’s splendor is pure George and Ira Gershwin. The show is almost a jukebox musical in the sense that the score represents some of the best of the brothers’ many fine compositions.

It’s an artistic triumph, as directed and choreographed by guest artist, Lynne Kurdziel-Formato. Every moment becomes a story told through music and movement. Supported by Chris Sargent’s musical direction and finely conducted, richly sounding pit orchestra, the production is a mellifluous masterpiece.

Visually enhanced by Karl Green’s stunning, eye-popping costumes, Emily Young’s period hair and wigs and a multilayered Impressionist scenic design by Kevin Depinet, the production is artistically amplified by Lee Fiskness’ dazzling lighting and some unbelievable moving projections by Kevan Loney,

What we’re blessed with is actually a traditional, old-fashioned book musical. Lucas has simply fleshed out the thin plot of the Academy Award-winning film. He’s infused the libretto with an array of additional wise and witty characters to tell this story of love and art.

Following the end of WWII, American soldier Jerry Mulligan decides to remain in Paris, hoping to nurture his career as a painter. By chance, he meets fellow ex-patriot, Adam Hochberg, a musical composer (modeled after George Gershwin) who’s also a fellow war veteran.

Adam’s been secretly coaching Henri Baurel, the son of a wealthy French family to become a nightclub singer/dancer. All three men imagine a better, more fulfilling future after the atrocities they’ve endured in the War.

An American in Paris at Druray Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
An American in Paris at Druray Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Into their lives dances lovely Lise Dassin, a modest, young shop clerk who harbors her own dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. Eventually each man discovers that he’s in romantic competition for the affections pf Miss Dassin, a somewhat mysterious young woman with a secret past.

To complicate matters, Jerry meets and becomes the boy toy of Milo Davenport, a strong-willed American philanthropist who enjoys lending her financial support to struggling artists. She happily sponsors Lise’s dance career, funds a ballet written especially for her by Adam and support’s Jerry’s pursuit of an artistic life.

As expected, conflicts arise, secrets are revealed, friendships are mended and, with Adam conducting Lise’s ballet performance, the show ends happily.

As Jerry Mulligan, Josh Drake is boyishly handsome,  honest and convincing actor who sings and dances like a dream. A veteran of the National Tour circuit, he makes a terrific leading man in his Drury Lane debut and dominates every choreographic number.

He’s extremely well-matched by gifted singer/dancer Leigh-Ann Esty, as Lise. Her smooth, athletic ballet moves are pure poetry in motion and her face lights up whenever she’s dancing with the man she loves.

An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
An American in Paris at Drury Lane Theatre. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

Chicago’s own Skyler Adams is excellent and absolutely heartbreaking as Adam, a brilliant, yet insecure young composer looking for a career break and a chance at love. He, too, falls for Lise, creating conflict between himself and his new friend Jerry.

Add into this mix an exquisite performance by the multi-gifted Will Skrip as Henri, a handsome, closeted young man who’s also drawn to Lise, a family friend.

She’s in debt to Henri and his parents (we later learn the reason for her gratitude) and accepts Henri’s halfhearted proposal of marriage. Henri’s delightful aristocratic parents are played with glee by Caron Buinis and Neil Friedman.

In addition, there’s gorgeous millionaire Milo Davenport, deliciously portrayed and sung by Erica Evans, who has fallen for her protege, Jerry, although he innocently thinks she’s simply interested in helping further his artistic endeavors.

The company is supported by a brilliant ensemble of triple-threats, a company of corps de ballet and jive/modern tappers, such as the exquisite Sawyer Smith and Cory Goodrich as Mr. Z and Olga, who are unsurpassed. They dress the stage with their talent, choreographic skill and unbridled energy.

For sheer entertainment, this wonderful musical production can’t be beat. It tells an unabashedly romantic story, set against the City of Lights, and made even more magical by the Gershwins’ lush score.

This multi Tony Award-winning musical is sure to be embraced by every theatre fanatic, as well as devotees of the classic film. It features superb choreography and singing, performed by a phenomenally talented cast and surrounded by gorgeous sets and costumes.

Audiences are guaranteed to leave the theatre humming songs like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” “But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Who could ask for anything more? This is simply a Gershwin-ner of a production.

DETAILS: “An American in Paris” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through March 29, 2020. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and more information call (630) 530-0111 or 800-745-3000 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Colin Douglas

For more show reviews visit TheatreInChicag

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