An American in Paris

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 10.41.23 AMWe were in London for a week and saw not a single show we thought worth posting about. But we took the Chunnel to Paris to get a look at Christopher Wheeldon’s first go-round as a Broadway director choreographer, and here’s the result:

We’ve just gotten back from “An American in Paris,” playing an unusual “out-of-town tryout” in the City of Light. We went with a healthy dose of skepticism, having seen perhaps one too many “new” musicals with scores lifted from the classic American Songbook. But Christopher Wheeldon’s first attempt as a Broadway director-choreopgrapher is quite a monumental thing, which, though far from perfect, is so full of ideas and inspired design, choreography and music that it’s impossible not to be impressed.

Christopher Wheeldon

Christopher Wheeldon

 

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Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope

We found it actually a kind of new way to do musical theater -— a real combination of dance, design, words and music to tell a story, sort of like “West Side Story” for the 21st century. It’s unlikely anyone will ever do anything like it again, and we can’t say we’ve ever seen anything like it before. Did we love every minute? No, but it feels ground-breaking in a way that left us not caring too much about its flaws. There will be people who think it’s a heavy lift -— just under three hours and more ideas than it can easily keep under control, and others who will find it out of touch with today’s audience, which it sort of is, but we just bathed in the music and the dance and the look of it, and were kind of touched in the end, too.

The two leads, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, are pretty damn great, Rob Fisher has fashioned Gershwin’s many popular and classical pieces into a completely coherent whole, Bob Crowley’s scenic and costume work and Natasha Katz’s lighting are out of this world, and Wheeldon’s choreography, if not his direction of the book scenes, is in a league by itself.

In the end, the show is a romantic comedy, not a deep tragedy like West Side Story, and maybe it can’t quite hold the heft of all its invention in such a delicate mold, but “who cares?”, as Ira once wrote. It’s quite an achievement, and not to be missed when it hits The Palace on 47th Street this spring.

Jack Viertel

 

 

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