If a ballet was a musical then it would be “An American in Paris.” Adapted from the classic 1951 film with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the musical version pays homage to the original in a burst of creativity and vision that dazzles but overreaches.
The musical version landed on Broadway in 2015 and is now touring nationally. Christopher Wheeldon directed and choreographed the entire show. He’s a graduate of the Royal Ballet, London before coming to New York City in the mid-90s. He lends his expertise and vision to the musical, which shines as a blend of Broadway and ballet.
The dance numbers are gorgeous and impressive. For Broadway cast, the allégros and pliés were executed with surprising grace and skill. It just shows how incredibly well versed Broadway actors are in their craft to go from traditional Broadway dance numbers into a full-on ballet. And in a musical like “An American in Paris,” being en pointe is a must!
Opening night saw McGee Maddox as the leading man, Jerry Mulligan. The love-struck U.S. veteran, turned artist, was exuberant and slick in his steps and singing. Sara Etsy played the meek Lise Dassin—a ballet prodigy who catches Maddox’s eye. Etai Benson is the snarky music composer, Nick Spangler plays the cow-eyed French aristocrat with dreams of being a vaudeville star.
Out of the entire case, Benson shines as a true star, even though his role is smaller than the rest. With his presence, vocal range, and spunk, the rest of the cast seemed to fade next to him. Maddox and Spangler’s performances are strong, but Benson’s performance is just effortless. As for Etsy, her voice was small, which fit her character, but it affected her entire performance which seemed soft and shadowed. Even her dancing, which was gorgeous at first, seemed to taper off in power and pizazz by the end of the show. It almost appeared as if she injured herself for she seemed to limp off stage after the epic final ballet, which lasted nearly 20 minutes.
As for the rest, the sets were lavish and creative with hi-tech video projections. The costuming lovingly echoes of the original film and the score is for the most part delightful. However, there was a feeling of “going through the movements” throughout the performance. Almost as if the cast was tired.
Outside of seeming to skim along the real emotion of the story, there were so many references made to modern artists, music trends, World War II history that the musical felt like it was trying too hard, whereas, the original film better balanced these elements. The show is certainly worth seeing and you’ll most likely be tapping your toe, but for diehard fans of the film, you’ll end up missing the vitality of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.
“An American in Paris” plays at Gammage, 1200 S Forest Ave. in Tempe, until April 23.
– Kaely Monahan is a Mesa resident and lover of theater, film and podcasts.