A New Look At An American in Paris
The Drury Lane Theatre production is not a simple replica of previous shows and enjoys its own identity
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Josh Drake and Leigh-Ann Esty in one of their dancer numbers (above) and (below) the trio of men vying for her attention, Drake, Skyler Adams and Will Skrip.
The cast of the award-winning An American in Paris takes center stage in one of the numerous dance routines at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
AS people are settling into their seats and before anyone makes an appearance on stage, the hidden voice of an announcer lets you know that you are in for a night of song and dance, and that’s no exaggeration when it comes to the four-time Tony Award-winning, dance-filled Gershwin musical An American in Paris.
At Drury Lane Theatre through March 29, the production, inspired by the 1951 Academy Award-winning film, comes alive on stage with a mix of breathtaking choreography, heartfelt music and the romantic story about an American soldier and a mysterious French girl at the end of World World II. With music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin (and a book by Craig Lucas), the dynamic score of classic tunes includes the songs such as “I Got Rhythm,” “Liza,” “‘S Wonderful,” “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck,” “The Man I Love,” “But Not For Me,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” and (conducted by Chris Sargent) orchestral music “Concerto in F,” “Second Prelude,” “Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture” and “An American In Paris.”
In the show, Jerry Mulligan (Josh Drake) has decided to remain in Paris after the war to pursue his artistic talents and later runs into the captivating ballerina Lise Dassin, played by Leigh-Ann Esty, a Broadway actress who returns to the role after participating in the show’s national tour. In LIse, Jerry believes “Jack has found his Jill,” but budding romance between the two becomes a bit complicated when pianist/composer Adam (Skyler Adams) and textile heir Henri (Will Skrip), the son of arts patrons, also profess their love for the diminutive dancer who has her sights set on becoming the prima ballerina of the Théâtre du Châtelet Ballet. While roadblocks continue to mount for Lise and Jerry, her succinct answer to Jerry’s frustrations is a simple exclamation: “Life is not like your American movies.”
An American in Paris is loaded with outstanding performances, including Erica Evans’ role as Milo Davenport, an opinionated American philanthropist who is so moved by Lise’s talents that she wants to finance a new ballet in which Lise will star. Davenport already has tried to boost Jerry’s art career by introducing him to influential gallery owners, but her own thoughts about romance with the man she has described as a “noted painter” prompts her to demand that he be allowed to design the ballet. Davenport, no stranger to the Drury Lane stage (South Pacific, 42nd Street, Chicago, Crazy For You, Hazel), again showcases her alluring voice with songs such as “But Not For Me,” “Who Cares?” and “Shall We Dance.”
In this production, Lynne Kurdziel-Formato is tasked with double duty as director/choreography, first putting her directorial signature on the production that initially was viewed in 2014 as more classical ballet than musical theater. Further, it’s easy to see why the musical won the Tony Award for the entertaining choreography that came to the forefront in spectacular dance routines such as the one inspired by the tune “Fidgety Feet,” requiring a level of stunning precision to manipulate a collection of accompanying chairs as props. Additionally, the abundant abilities of set designer Kevin Depinet, costume designer Karl Green, lighting designer Lee Fiskness and sound designer Ray Nardelli all enhance the classic show that could hit the road again for another national tour.
Almost 70 years after the film debut, An American in Paris is still beloved for its simple theme that theatergoers enthusiastically embrace. It’s all about love and its wide-reaching effects on so many––those who search for it, those who find it, those who cherish it and those who recognize the beauty of it. Ultimately, though, it’s about those who can grasp it and somehow find a way to hold on to it.
The schedule for An American in Paris is as follows: Wednesdays, 1:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are $60–$75. Wednesday and Thursday matinees, $60; Thursday and Sunday evenings, $70; Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees, $75. Tickets for senior citizens start at $55 for matinees. There are tickets for student groups, and dining and show packages are available.
Photographs by Brett Beiner