Call it déjà vu, a coincidence or odd planning, but there are now two musicals on Broadway based on Oscar-winning 1950s Technicolor MGM movie musicals that starred Leslie Caron, were directed by Vincente Minnelli and are romances set in Paris.
Last week “Gigi” opened, and now there’s “An American in Paris.” But whereas “Gigi” is technically a revival, “An American in Paris” has never been done on stage.
What also sets it apart are its intricate ballet sequences from ballet star Christopher Wheeldon (who serves as director-choreographer), exceptional music supervision from Rob Fisher, a dazzling design scheme by Bob Crowley and an unusually somber book by playwright Craig Lucas. It is also yet another musical that ransacks the Gershwin song catalog (in the tradition of “Crazy for You” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”).
The basic plot of the film is carried over, in which an American soldier-turned-artist (Robert Fairchild) becomes enamored with a French girl (Leanne Cope) already engaged to a friend (Max von Essen). It culminates in an abstract mini-ballet, though some of the earlier dance sequences prove to be equally exciting.
About a dozen Gershwin songs are inserted into the story line, including “I Got Rhythm,” ” ‘S Wonderful” and “The Man I Love,” plus orchestral pieces such as “Concerto in F” and “Cuban Overture.”
Lucas stresses the cultural tensions in postwar Paris, bringing up the painful stains of Nazi occupation. Two of the main characters are now Jewish and one is gay. Though heavy-handed and drawn out, he deserves credit for trying to add depth to the film rather than simply recreating it or sanitizing it (i.e. “Gigi”).
Regardless of the book, the music is glorious, the visuals are innovative and the performances are top-rate. Fairchild (a New York City Ballet dancer) may not be Gene Kelly, but he is a terrific leading man.
If you go: “An American in Paris” plays an open run at the Palace Theatre. Broadway and 47th Street. AnAmericanInParisBroadway.com.