There’s a world of difference between the musicals of today and those produced by Arthur Freed and Gene Kelly at MGM in the years following World War II.
Today’s musicals are primarily created for stage, not film, and can tap technology capable of generating spectacular visual razzle-dazzle.
That factor is the biggest difference between the 2015 Broadway and touring versions of “An American in Paris” and the 1951 MGM motion picture it’s based on.
Both contain enough breathtaking dance scenes to fill three shows, and both are awash with some of George and Ira Gershwin’s greatest songs – but the touring production now playing at Segerstrom Center, directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, has the kind of pizzazz unknown in Freed and Kelly’s time.
Wheeldon’s dance numbers inventively rival the classic movie’s, but Bob Crowley’s dazzling, eye-popping sets and costumes and the imaginative, stupefying projection design created by 59 Productions are what put this show over the top.
Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), an American G.I. who sticks around the city as a would-be composer, tells us that the war is over, the Nazis have been vanquished and life in Paris is slowly returning to normal.
Adam plays piano in a café owned by Frenchman Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), whose wealthy parents want him to run the family’s factories but who secretly dreams of becoming a nightclub singer in New York City. Like Adam, ex-G.I. Jerry Mulligan (Ryan Steele) has made Paris his new home, happy but struggling as an artist.
All three love music and art, and all three are attracted to Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), a lovely young ballerina whose mother was close with Henri’s parents. Meanwhile, Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), a wealthy American art lover seeking repute as a patroness of the arts, meets all three men and falls for Jerry.
Inspired by the MGM film, Craig Lucas’ book essentially follows these five characters. The trio of men become united in creating a new ballet for a major ballet company, funded by Milo and featuring Lise as prima ballerina – yet each is unaware that the other two love Lise. Though Lise is already involved with Henri and about to become engaged to him, Jerry begins courting her as Adam nurses a secret infatuation.
The story, of course, exists mainly as an excuse for one phenomenal song-and-dance number after another. The creative and musical personnel are those of the…