An American In Paris is a nostalgic and romantic musical for the entire family
An American In Paris touring company
The Mirvish production of An American In Paris, on at the Princess of Wales theatre until April 29, does not contain that one show-stopping song and dance number, that one performer that is so incredible that it brings people to their feet en masse.
What it does is transport the audience, slowly but surely, to another time and place. The leads win over the audience in increments and then take it to the next level of showmanship with a deliciously intricate and absorbing second half. It’s a musical of substance and style that is wholly satisfying and lingers long after the house lights come on.
An American in Paris has a long history dating back to a George Gershwin orchestral composition in 1928 and made famous by the incomparable Gene Kelly in the 1951 musical film. This stage musical version with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon premiered back in 2015 on Broadway, and won a few Tony Awards on the way to this Toronto production.
Set in Paris in the days following the end of the Second World War, An American In Paris tells the story of American soldier Jerry Mulligan who is inspired to remain in the city of lights and pursue his passion for painting after bumping into a mysterious girl on the Paris streets. After wandering into a café, he strikes up a friendship with fellow American and composer Adam Hochberg and Henri Baurel, son of a prominent French family and closet cabaret singer.
Mulligan and Hochberg, helped by an American benefactor, begin work on a ballet of which, most coincidentally, the mysterious girl, Lise Dassin, happens to have landed the lead. As the story unfolds, we find our two Americans falling in love with Dassin for different reasons and Baurel set to announce his engagement to her. As the love square plays out, we learn more about Haurels relationship to Dassin and the true nature of love and art.
An American In Paris is packed with memorable songs and boasts plenty of beloved standards perhaps none better known and adored than “I Got Rhythm” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” both of which are sung to delightful affect by the trio of male leads.
The set is uncomplicated; a video screen is utilized in modest fashion as drawings of the Paris streetscape are pencilled in with each changing scene. The River Seine is front and centre at times and a Van Gogh worth starry night at others. It all adds to the transportive quality that makes good use of our already romanticized vision of Paris.
The leads are all capable, to be sure. But they don’t grab you at first, instead they work at it and win the audience over with their unique charms. Former National Ballet of Canada dancer McGee Maddox’s Mulligan is perhaps a bit too much Jim Carrey and not enough Gene Kelly at first but he wins our hearts in the end. Matthew Scott’s Adam Hochberg is maybe a trifle too tragic, Ben Michael bestows upon Baurel an accent that is perhaps a little more Russian than French. But we opt to go on the journey with them and they pay us back in full.
Although already a fine almost nostalgic production, the second half is clearly the most adventurous portion with an extended ballet sequence at the end of the show that is a feast for the senses and stretches a wonderfully long 15 minutes. Truly breathtaking work.
Go, have your fun.
An American in Paris is on at the Princess of Wales Theatre until April 29.