Stage review: ‘An American in Paris’

Garen Scribner and Sara Etsy in ‘An American in Paris.’ (Photos by Matthew Murphy)

The film version of An American in Paris is one of the signature musicals of MGM’s golden age (it won the Oscar for best picture in 1951), but by modern standards, it’s not great. Sure, there’s the music by George Gershwin and the dancing of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron (especially the centerpiece closing dream ballet), but the elements don’t always fit together well. And Kelly’s character — former G.I.-cum-starving-artist Jerry Mulligan — is pretty much a selfish prick. He allows himself to be a kept man by art patroness Milo Davenport while openly chasing gamine Lise, who is the fiancee of one of his friends. There’s not a lot of subtext there, no commentary about shell-shocked soldiers grappling with mortality or even the “lovable heel” angle of film noir. Nope, he’s just an asshole. When he gets with Lise at the end, you’re kinda mad.

These flaws are largely dispelled in Craig Lucas’ book for the original 2015 stage version of An American in Paris (now onstage at Fair Park Music Hall through Feb. 12, and moving to Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth on Feb. 14). There’s grit and personality and explanations that flesh out Jerry and several other characters … and Gershwin’s music and amazing dancing. It’s truly the best of all possible worlds: A delightful, old-fashionedly show-stopping musical with a lot of smarts.

The plot is less about a love triangle than a love rhombus: French ballerina Lise (Sara Esty) is engaged Frenchman Henri (Nick Spangler), whose family may have been collaborators with the Nazis (or maybe something else). Lise doesn’t love Henri (who may even be gay), but she’s devoted to him. Jerry (Garen Scribner) is smitten with Lise, and while she feels an attraction back, she is put off that he seems to be coupled with Milo (Emily Ferranti). Meanwhile, Jerry’s fellow-American-G.I.-in-Paris Adam (Etai Benson), a composer with a gloomy outlook, pines in silence for Lise.

Lise meets with Jerry. Jerry pursues Lise. Henri can’t work up the courage to propose. Adam struggles to find a voice. Heck, it’s almost like La La Land … maybe Le Le Land.

An American in Paris is simply gorgeous in every particular, from the nimble sets (including inventive projections), evocative costumes, sparkling lighting and stunning choreography. Director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has turned a big, vivid movie into something nearly as big but specific to the stage. One of the set-pieces from the film, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” famously includes a huge lighted staircase; the adaptation here does away with the stairs, but comes up with such a dazzling substitute you never miss it. And the closing ballet makes much more sense (a combination of dream and concert) that lasts 14 glorious minutes.

The principal actors are all deliciously ebullient and likable … even Jerry, whose treatment of Milo seems less awful (it helps that Milo is given to modern self-reflection). There aren’t enough musicals anymore that are just about being delightful. This is welcome to set the standard.

Visit here for Dallas or Fort Worth tickets.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Best Bets • 02.03.12

AmmunitionFriday 02.03

Fill up on eye candy
Viva Dallas Burlesque delves into the absurd with Gadgets and Gobstoppers: The Twisted World of Wonka. Burlesque beauties go from steamy to steampunk teaming up with local band Marquis of Vaudeville. Expect a cavity as they transform the theater into a candy confection of dance and music and a whole lotta sexy.

DEETS:
Lakewood Theater
1825 Abrams Road.
8 p.m. $20.
VivaDallasBurlesque.com.

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Tuesday 02.07

Lady unplugged
Brandi Carlile must really love this town and rightfully so. She’s been here consistently the last two years and sold out the Granada Theater in 2011. She scales back a bit this time performing with an acoustic trio and likely her signature acapella tune. She’s one of the few who can pull that gimmick off with so much magic.

DEETS:
With Lucy Wainwright Roche
House of Blues
2200 N. Lamar St.
8 p.m. $27.50–$39.50.
HouseOfBlues.com.

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Tuesday 02.07

Sounds like couture
Fashioned Forward is a musical exploration into the designs behind legend Jean Paul Gaultier. Spanning from classical to pop, performers turn fashion into song with works by Gershwin to Madonna using Gaultier as inspiration.

DEETS:
Horchow Auditorium
1717 N. Harwood Road (in the DMA).
7:30 p.m. $37.
DallasMuseumOfArt.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: Racette an easy singer in a special TDO concert at the Winspear on Wednesday

Last night afforded opera fans the last chance to see a Dallas Opera presentation until 2012 — well, sort of. Soprano Pat Racette, who was supposed to portray Katya Kabonova this month before the production was canceled, still managed to play the Winspear in a special 70-minute cabaret set. (“In honor of Janacek, I have translated all the lyrics into Czech,” she joked.) Although she said she wouldn’t be singing opera, just classics, she couldn’t resist the chance to turn on the pipes big-time for “La Vie en Rose,” which was met with thunderous applause.

For those who sniff at the overblown style of opera, Racette could probably make a convert of ya. She was jokey and easy-going onstage with a torch singer’s facility. She also was refreshingly open. She someone from the audience yelled out, “Is Beth here?,” Racette didn’t hesitate to give shout-outs to her wife, mezzo Beth Clayton, and her in-laws, who were all in the hall. She even played around a bit with Gershwin, changing the lyric “I got my man” to “I got my gal” for one verse.

The set, consisted of several medleys and three encores, ran the gamut from Piaf to the novelty song “To Keep My Love Alive,” all met with warmth by the audience, populated with season subscribers. The worst thing about the evening? Being reminded that we would not get to see her do Katya. Here’s to hoping the TDO adds her back into the mix in a season real soon.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones