Review: An American in Paris (Broadway in Chicago)

| July 28, 2017

Sara Esty and McGee Maddox star as Lise Dassin and Jerry Mulligan in AAIP            


An American in Paris
George and Ira Gershwin (music, lyrics)
  and Craig Lucas (book)    
Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map)
thru Aug 13  |  tix: $27-$103  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


‘S Wonderful and ‘S Marvelous


An American in Paris, Broadway in Chicago 3

Broadway in Chicago presents
An American in Paris

It’s difficult to overstate the kinetic, sumptuous beauty of Broadway in Chicago’s An American In Paris. This is a musical where most of the plot unfolds in movement rather than words, where each dancer’s body contains multitudes of stories. Through the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, “An American in Paris” exposes the depths of human cruelty as well as the sublime heights of kindness that they’re capable of. And while Craig Lucas’ book stitches the post-war Parisian tale of love and art together, it’s bodies in light and motion and music that form the radiant core of An American in Paris.

McGee Maddox and Sara Esty star as Jerry Mulligan and Lise DassinSet in Paris just after the end of World War II, An American in Paris sets the scene with a dazzling dance number that shows the City of Lights still besieged by pockets of darkness. “Some things about a war,” notes narrator Adam Hochberg, “don’t just change over night.” Through the opening dance numbers, the audience sees brutal robberies and people starving in breadlines. There are vicious mob attacks on a lone, seemingly helpless woman who is swept off stage, screaming. There are women joyfully greeting their returning husbands, and women weeping because in lieu of a beloved reunion, they are left with only absence. 

It all happens within an extraordinarily complex integration of video projection ((by 59 Productions), lighting design (Natasha Katz) and set design (Bob Crowley, who also did the period-perfect costumes). The design collaboration creates a resplendent Paris where The Champs Elyees, Notre Dame, Montmartre, the Seine, the very skyline of Paris stand in mute testimony to the power of survival.

With design elements this massive and eye-catching, it would be all too easy for the actors onstage to find themselves upstaged by their surroundings. That never happens here. Under director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, the ensemble has both breadth and depth – every last performer seems to carry their own luminousness. And when the leading players break out in the production’s many showstoppers, the effect is marvelous.

McGee Maddox and Sara Esty star as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin in Nick Spangler, McGee Maddox and Etai Benson star in An American in ParisMcGee Maddox stars as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris at Broadway Chicago Gayton Scott and Emily Ferranti star as Madame Baurel and Milo Davenport inAn American in Paris, Broadway in Chicago 2

Inspired by the 1951 film of the same name, An American in Paris hews closely to the original, way-ahead-of-its-time plot. Soldier Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) rips up his ticket back to the States and decides to become an artist in Paris. He becomes best pals with aspiring composer Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson). The duo becomes “The Three Musketeers” with the arrival of Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), an aspiring jazz singer and a closeted gay man whose conservative parents would be appalled if they knew of their son’s proclivities in either love or art.

All three men are in love with Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), a beautiful ballerina who has her own secrets. The four-pointed love story is twined around the creation of a new ballet – starring Lise, funded by the wealthy, gorgeous American Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti) and produced under the auspices of a ballet company run by the Henri Baurel’s parents (Don Noble and Gayton Scott.)

Unlike other Gershwin-centric musicals (Crazy for You, Nice Work if You Can Get It), the music of An American in Paris is seamless in serving the story. If you didn’t know otherwise, you’d believe that George Gershwin wrote the ‘S Wonderful,” “Beginners Luck,” “Concerto in F,” “Second Rhapsody” and the “Cuban Overture” specifically for An American in Paris. When Lise auditions to the strains of George Gershwin’s haunting First Prelude, both the dancer and the music become a single, gliding entity. It’s sound and form, perfectly meshed. So it goes throughout An American in Paris.

An American in Paris, Broadway in Chicago 1Etai Benson stars as Adam Hochberg in An American in Paris, Broadway Chicago Sara Esty and McGee Maddox star as Lise Dassin and Jerry Mulligan inMcGee Maddox and Sara Esty star as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin

The solo numbers are jaw-dropping in their artistry, but so are the full-on all-ensemble blowouts. Wheeldon’s dance vocabulary is impressive. In addition to the amazing ballet numbers, there are jazz, modern and swing dances within An American in Paris, all of them creating a vivid picture of an intensely specific time, place and event. When Henri debuts his night club act (“Stairway to Paradise”), it’s an extravaganza that wouldn’t be out of place in the Ziegfeld Follies. When Jerry and Lise flirt in the playful “Liza,” it’s pure, champagne-bubbly romance. And when the audience finally sees the new ballet debut, it’s a show-within-a-show of gravity-defying technical mastery and a heart as big as the city itself.

The show demands a cast of top-tier triple threat singer/dancer/actors, and that it has. Esty (whose twin sister Leigh-Ann is her stand-by) makes the most demanding moves look as effortless as flowing water. As ingenues go, she’s mysterious, beautiful and sad, the last quality one that makes all the men in her orbit want to protect her. As for those men: Maddox’s Jerry Mulligan is a strapping, all-American specimen right out of an Army recruiting poster. Unlike most soldiers, Maddox’s triple-pirouettes are astounding – as is the height and the line he achieves jette-Ing across the stage. He’s all sinew and grace, with a rangy silhouette that cuts an arc through the storyline.

If Jerry’s the bumper-jawed All-American Man, Adam is, at first glance anyway, the slightly nebbish sidekick. Jerry’s art is all primary colors and bold shapes; Adam describes his art as coming from a place of sadness and despair. Adam is also Jewish, which adds oceans of undercurrent to any discussion about the Vichy Regime and Paris’ fate under the Nazis. In Benson’s capable hands, Adam is nobody’s sidekick or – despite the mangled leg he got in the war – victim. Adam’s brand of heroism isn’t as obvious as Jerry’s, but it’s there all right. Serving a the show’s narrator, Benson’s Adam gives An American in Paris its through-line heartbeat.

McGee Maddox and Sara Esty star as Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin in AAIPSara Esty and Emily Ferranti star as Lise and Milo in An American in Paris, Broadway Chicago

Finally, there’s Spangler’s Henri – who as a gay man in the late 1940s has his own issues with keeping secrets and keeping up a proper image. Spangler captures Henri’s uncompromising aspirations to jazz singing stardom with humor and just the right amount of pathos. This is a character whose strength is not obvious to the world – certainly not in the war, which Henri didn’t fight in. At least not as an enlisted man. Spangler also depicts a man who desperately wants to do the right thing, but keeps finding the ground shifting below him and forever changing just what that thing is.

Wheeldon’s supporting cast is also terrific. As the monied Milo, Ferranti deftly turns the tables on Jerry, seducing him in a way that seems to parallel the aggressive charms he unleashes on Lise. And as Henri’s terribly proper mother, Scott hits all the right comic notes.

In all, An American in Paris is joyous, fascinating and moving. It is also an incredible showcase of just how much beauty an ensemble of extraordinary dancers are capable of creating. To quote from the Gershwins, the entire production ‘s wonderful.

Rating: ★★★★

An American in Paris continues through August 13th at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map).  Tickets are $27-$103, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More at or time: 2 hours 30 minutes, includes an intermission)

Nick Spangler stars as Henri Baurel in An American in Paris, Broadway Chicago

Photos by Matthew Murphy 




McGee Maddox (Jerry Mulligan), Sara Esty (Lise Dassin), Etai Benson (Adam Hochberg), Emily Ferranti (Milo Davenport), Gayton Scott (Madame Baurel), Nick Spangler (Henri Baurel), Leigh-Ann Esty (Lise alternate, ensemble), Ryan Steele (Jerry alternate, ensemble), Stephen Brower (u/s Adam, ensemble), Jace Coronado (swing, u/s Mr. Z, M. Baurel, store manager), Kevin A. Cosculluela (returning soldier, Lise’s ballet partner, ensemble), Ashlee Dupré (swing, u/g Olga, returning soldier’s wife), Erika Hebron (swing, u/s Olga), Christopher M. Howard (dance captain, swing, u/s Henri, Mr. Z., Returning Soldier, Store Manager, Lise’s Ballet Partner), Weston Krukow (swing, u/s Mr. Z., Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner), Marina Lazzaretto (swing, u/s Returning Soldier’s Wife), Nathalie Marrable (swing, u/s Olga), Tom Mattingly (swing, u/s Returning Soldier, Lise’s Ballet Partner), Caitlin Meighan (Returning Soldier’s Wife, ensemble, u/s Lise), Don Noble (M. Baurel, Store Manager, ensemble), Alexandra Pernice (ensemble, u/s Milo), David Prottas (ensemble, u/s Jerry, Adam), Danielle Santos (swing, u/s Returning Soldier’s Wife), Kyle Vaughn (Mr. Z., ensemble, u/s M. Baurel), Laurie Wells (Olga, ensemble, u/s Mme. Baurel), Dana Winkle (ensemble, u/s Milo, Mme. Baurel), Polly Baird, Karolina Blonski, Brittany Bohn, Randy Castillo, Alexa de Barre, Lucas Segovia, Erica Wong, Blake Zelesnikar (ensemble), Sayiga Eugene Peabody (swing).


David Andrews Rogers (music director, conductor), Brad Gardner (keyboard, associate music director), Nancy Whelan, Henry Palkes (keyboards), Susan Saylor, Jim Gailloreto, Sean McNeely (reeds), Sam Oatts, Anthony DiMauro (trumpets), Marc Donatelle (trombone), Steve Winkler, Elizabeth Huffman (violins), Nick Donatelle (cello), Rich Trelease (drums, percussion)

behind the scenes

Christopher Wheeldon (director and choreographer), Bob Crowley (set and costume design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), 59 Productions (projection design), David Andrews Rogers (music director, conductor), Tesley + Company (casting), Todd Ellison (music supervisor), Christopher Austin, Bill Elliott (orchestrations), Sam Davis (dance arrangements), Seymour Red Press (music coordinator), Tim Burke (local music coordinator), Emily Grishman (music copying, preparation), Dontee Kiehn (associate director, associate choreographer), Sean Maurice Kelly (associate choreographer, resident director), Rick Steiger (production supervisor), Kenneth J. Davis (production stage manager), Donavan Dolan, Anna K. Rains (asst. stage managers), Kathy Fabian, Propstar (props supervisor), Unkledave’s Fight-House (fight direction), Allied Live (marketing and press), Karen Berry (general manager), Christopher M. Howard (dance captain), Ashlee Dupré (asst. dance captain), Amber McDonald (asst. projection design), Brad Peterson (projection programmer), Jake Bell (technical consultant), Stuart Andrews (keyboard programmer), David Anzuelo (fight director), Jesse Geguzis (asst. fight director), Dominique Plaisant (vocal coach), Guillian Lane-Plescia (dialect coach), Matthew Murphy (photos)

McGee Maddox stars as Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris, Broadway Chicago


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Catey Sullivan, George Gershwin, Musical, National Tours, Oriental Theatre (Ford), Video, YouTube

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