The stage adaptation of the classic movie musical “An American in Paris” ran for about a year and a half on Broadway. That’s more than respectable, but far from spectacular in the era of mega-hit musicals that run for decades.
The first U.S. tour of the Gershwin classic came to Tampa this week and runs through Sunday at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. It’s just as edifying and just as enjoyable — and in its way, every bit as spectacular — as “The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Lion King” or any of the record-setting musicals that have been on Broadway or on tour.
The musical should please fans of the 1951 Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron film. It’s far from a carbon-copy, but it follows the same template. The story’s a bit beefier this time around, with the shadow of World War II insinuating itself into every life and almost every relationship. It uses some different Gershwin songs, and the choreography has all been reworked, but the stage version still retains the heart and essence of the film that ranks as one of the greatest movie musicals ever.
The story has to do with a sort of love pentagon, with three men (two Americans and on Frenchman) all in love with the same French woman, and an American woman in love with one of the men. The French woman is torn between two of the men.
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The story’s OK, and because the show is not especially song-heavy there’s more time for the story and the characters to develop than in some musicals. You can’t help but get a little misty-eyed at the show’s conclusion,
But the songs, which include “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “But Not For Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and the dancing, which is among the best you’ll see in any musical, are what make this show. The long ballet scene toward the end, adapted from the one in the movie, is a breathtaking thing to watch.
Just as awe-inspiring are Rob Crowley’s Tony Award winning sets. A lot of the scenic changes happened before the audience’s eyes, and they’re choreographed in a way that makes them add to the visual effects of the show instead of stopping the action. Some set designers use projections as a shortcut, but in Crowley’s hands they’re an art form of their own.
Garen Scribner and Sara Esty reprise their roles from the Broadway production as Jerry (the Gene Kelly role) and Lise. They’re both wonderful, though it’s pretty apparent that Scribner was cast more for his dancing than his singing or acting. There’s nothing really wrong with those elements of his performance, except for trouble with notes at the low end of his singing range, but his dancing is gorgeous. If you know the movie, you can’t help but compare him to Gene Kelly, and he doesn’t come out badly in that comparison. There’s really not a weak link in the cast, but Emily Ferranti is a standout as Milo, the American art patron who’s in love with Jerry.
Overall, “An American in Paris” is deliciously old-fashioned and exuberantly modern, and a massive amount of fun for theater connoisseurs and for theater dabblers. It’s the kind of show that most musicals aspire to be but very few are.
Details: Through Dec. 25, Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. 2 p.m. Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, $39-$125 plus service charge. 813-229-7827, strazcenter.org.
The songs, which include “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “’S Wonderful,” “But Not For Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and the dancing, which is among the best you’ll see in any musical, are what make this show. The long ballet scene toward the end, adapted from the one in the movie, is a breathtaking thing to watch.