Wednesday, April 19, 2017

'An American in Paris' by George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin and Craig Lucas

19 April 2017

George Gershwin wrote ‘An American in Paris’ in 1928 as a symphonic poem suggesting the experience of a first-time visitor falling in love with the French capital (complete with its car horns!). The piece has become a staple of the orchestral repertoire: I played it with Northampton Symphony Orchestra in 2010 (reviewed here in April 2010). In 1951 Vincente Minnelli took the music (and its title) and combined it with some popular Gershwin songs and a script by Alan Jay Lerner to create the famous film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. The climax of the film is a 17-minute ballet sequence using the original Gershwin orchestral work. In 2015 the English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created a stage musical version of ‘An American in Paris’ (with book by Craig Lucas) which played to great acclaim on Broadway. That original Broadway production, choreographed and directed by Christopher Wheeldon, is now at the Dominion Theatre in London where we saw it last Friday. It is a truly wonderful show – beautiful, uplifting and charmingly old-fashioned. To call it a musical is slightly misleading – the show is more a ballet interspersed with songs. It draws on Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’ and a range of his other orchestral compositions to create the score for a succession of big ensemble dance pieces. I spotted music from Gershwin's 'Cuban Overture' which I played with Northampton Symphony Orchestra last year (reviewed here in June 2016). But the show also includes some of Gershwin’s best-known songs including ‘I Got Rhythm’, ‘'S Wonderful’ and ‘But Not For Me’. The dancing was amazing: both the leads are star ballet dancers – Robert Fairchild was a Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet and Leanne Cope gave up her position as First Artist with the Royal Ballet to take this role. All the cast danced beautifully but Robert Fairchild was particularly compelling – his movement, even in the acted scenes, was wonderfully fluid with the elasticity of a cartoon character. And these dancers are also impressive singers. The set by Bob Crowley, lighting by Natasha Katz and projections by 59 Productions created a stunning and dynamic theatrical landscape. The plot might have been a bit thin but this was an outstanding evening in the theatre. And the climax was, of course, an extended ballet duet featuring the original ‘An American in Paris’ music in full. Highly recommended.

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