Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

An American In Paris
National Tour
Review by David Edward Hughes

Nick Spangler, McGee Maddox, and Etai Benson
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Full disclosure time. I have never seen the Vincente Minnelli MGM film classic in its entirety. The highlights are indeed high, but the cumulative effect of the film makes me weary before the big ballet at the end. Knowing that the Tony Award nominated stage version was not a slavish-redo of the film, I looked forward to seeing Christopher Wheeldon's Tony nominated direction and Tony winning choreography, with a cast made up of pros who haven't gotten a big name or Tony yet. Well, the four leads in this national tour will go on to bright futures, so enjoy seeing them now in this paean to when musicals were musicals!

The Gershwin songs chosen from their nonpareil catalogue (and sumptuously adapted by Rob Fisher) include "Liza," "Fidgety Feet," and "Shall We Dance" along with the indispensable "I Got Rhythm," "But Not For Me," and S' Wonderful, and the symphonic pieces used in the big ballet numbers. Playwright Craig Lucas's solid, lighthearted script pays homage to the film script without deifying it. Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), former Private Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), and wealthy aspiring French song and dance man Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler become chums until they all fall for the same girl, ballerina du jour Lise Dassin (Sara Esty). Chic, posed arts patron Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti) also has a thing for Jerry. And Henri's imposing parents do not know he will not be perpetuating the family business. That's all you really need to know about the plot, with no spoilers. The book is a solid hook to hang great songs, dances, and a solid ensemble upon.

McGee Maddox is not in the Gene Kelly mold. With his big, Howard Keel-like voice, this tall handsome triple threat is by turns macho, sympathetic, goofy and dreamy, not necessarily in that order. Whether he leads a totally beguiling, if out of nowhere, ensemble in a zany "Fidgety Feet," or sings and dances a charming "Liza" with Mademoiselle Sara Esty;s Lise, he is hard to take your eyes off. Esty is more like Leslie Caron's Lise in the film, but never a copy. You root for her to pick the right beau, and she dances with Maddox and the company with a piquant charm that suits the role to a T. Etai Benson is a diminutive charmer with star-to-be written all over him, as Adam, the limping ex-soldier who plays the piano and writes the big ballet (with a Lucas scripted tip of the hat to the very individual Oscar Levant who played the role in the film). Nick Spangler's Henri is at his considerable best when his about-to-flop rendition of "Stairway to Paradise" turns into a Radio City set piece, and he becomes quite the boulevardier. All three male leads get a sort of eleven o'clock number trio of my personal favorite Gershwin tune, "They Can't Take That Away from Me," which plucked at my heartstrings. And Emily Ferranti is really winning in the much expanded role of Milo, playing her as a cross between a society bitch and a good egg, and selling the lion's share of the lead female vocals with panache.

Gayton Scott and Don Noble offer savory support as the mama and papa Baurel, and Bradley Schlagheck as Lise's ballet partner is a standout in an ensemble that could hardly be easier on the eyes or light on its feet. The show also looks like a million; Bob Crowley's set and costume designs and 59 Productions' projection designs make your eyes pop right out of your head, abetted by Natasha Katz's expert lighting designs. With a show like this you don't need a stairway to paradise, just walk in and settle in your seat at the Paramount.

An American In Paris runs through May 14, 2017, at Seattle's Paramount Theatre at 9th and Pine, downtown. Tickets start at $30 and are available online at,, by calling 1-800-745-3000, or in person at The Paramount Theatre box office (Monday through Friday, 10am to 6pm). For more information on the tour, visit

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