Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

An American in Paris
National Tour
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's reviews of Luna Gale, Ain't Too Proud—The Life and Times of The Temptations and Rumors and Richard's reviews of How I Learned to Drive and Back from Iraq

Sara Esty and McGee Maddox
Photo by Matthew Murphy
I have had a love affair with An American in Paris since I first saw the 1951 MGM film with Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and Oscar Levant. That said, the national tour of the new musical staging, at the Orpheum through October 8, is stunning.

An American in Paris has a George and Ira Gershwin score, as did the film. It has soaring ballet sequences such as "Concerto in F" at the beginning of production with fantastic dancers, and a spectacular "An American in Paris" ballet at end of the production again with superb dancers. There are classic Gershwin numbers like "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," "'S Wonderful," and "They Can't Take that Away from Me." At that end of the first act there is an eye-popping dance number to "Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture," and for the 11 o'clock number, the musical goes all out with "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" with a rapturous art deco version of Radio City Music Hall complete with feathered chorus girls. It will blow your mind.

The musical, which was nominated for 12 Tony Awards and won four, has a new book by playwright Craig Lucas. It opens with the 1945 liberation of Paris, projected swastikas replaced by the Tricolor flag of France. Designer Bob Crowley uses flat and video imagery by 59 Projections to conjure the variety of the city. The opening number shows Paris ("I Got Rhythm") as seen by GI-turned-artist Jerry Mulligan, played by Canadian Ballet star McGee Maddox, dancing his heart out.

The heroine is Lise, played by Sara Esty, former dancer with also with Canadian Ballet. Three men are enamored with her: the handsome Jerry; piano player Adam Hochberg (Stephen Brower); and Frenchman Henri Baurel (Nick Spanger). Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), a rich American patroness who falls for Jerry, has an expanded role from the movie version, financing the ballet that will give Lise her big break.

The musical is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. His choreography guarantees the show is never still. In one scene at the Galeries Lafayette he parodies the artiness of the 1940s classical ball, with the four dancers presenting "The Eclipse of Uranus" on the stage within the stage which turns into umbrella-twirling jiving to the familiar Gershwin number, "Fidgety Feet."

McGee Maddox and Sara Esty are excellent as Jerry and Lise. They are able to act and sing as well as dance effortlessly into a number. There is a strong supporting cast in Stephen Bower as Adam, Nick Spangler as Henri, and Emily Ferranti as Milo, who show impeccable voices in "'S Wonderful," "Shall We Dance?," "Who Cares?," and "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise." Stephan Bower is appropriately sardonic as Adam, while Nick Spangler is splendid as Henri. Emily Ferranti is impressive as Milo Gayton and Don Noble is excellent as Henri's father.

An American in Paris will play through October 8, 2017, at the SHN Orpheum, 1192 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets may be obtain by calling 888-746-1799 or online at Next up is Disney's Aladdin, from November 1 through January 7, 2018.