The Making of a Musical Sensation:Shuffle Along

Opening night pushed back to April 28, 2016

Full of verve and vigor, this bold new production of the making of the musical sensation Shuffle Along, currently in previews and scheduled to open just in time for Tony Award nominations this April 2016, will entertain and inform the theater goer. Prior to the buzz about this production, I had not heard of Shuffle Along. I had heard of Eubie Blake, the lyricist and composer of the music, in Shuffle Along when I was in high school, but I never knew that the 1920s produced the first successful musical featuring men and women of color. Accompanying the Playbill, is a booklet that provides biographical information on the original characters. I knew only of the successful musical Porgy and Bess and of Paul Robeson becoming the first African American to play Othello. Even after purchasing group tickets for my colleagues, I did not know the history behind the story. I thought that it was a typical revival, but its director, George C. Wolfe, concluded that the musical was better performed as “The making of a musical sensation.” Having read a New York Times Magazine article a week before seeing the show, I was prepared to see one of the controversial elements of the show -two of the characters in “blackface.” Although whites typically at that time performed during minstrel shows in black face, blacks also performed similarly because whites were not accustomed to seeing blacks perform. To facilitate their performances, they donned their faces in black, despite the hypocrisy of their actions. This musical makes brief mention of their contradictory actions, while withholding judgment on their conduct. Moreover, the musical pays tribute to some of the great African-American legends of Broadway and of the music industry who paved the way for subsequent people of color. Songs that we have come to know, originate from this show (“I’m just Wild About Harry,” and “Love Will Find a Way”). Accurately depicting the social fabric of the 1920s, Shuffle Along choreographs and dances its way into Broadway history, through an impressive cast greenlighted with the ever impressive singing sensation and sixth time Tony Award winning Audra McDonald, the seasoned Brandon Stokes Mitchell, the show stopping choreography of Savion Glover, and the comical and dynamic Tony Award winning Billy Porter. Audra McDonald plays Lottie Gee, the star of the original musical, Brian Stokes Mitchell plays F. E. Miller the original writer of the show, Billy Porter plays Aubrey Lyles, his writing-partner, Joshua Henry plays Noble Sissle the musician, and Brandon Victor Dixon plays Eubie Blake. Brooks Ashmanskas plays many notable characters including the railroad president and various celebrities. Ashmanskas, the lone white man in the show, is illustrative of the both financial and racial conflict that the actors experienced in the original musical. The threat of closure due to financial insolvency loomed large over the original show.


From the archives of the original Shuffle Along. Used with courtesy.

Shuffle Along‘s retelling is the story of Lottie Gee’s performance in the original musical and her love affair with Eubie Blake, the married and famed musician. George C. Wolfe takes the extant, albeit scant history of some of the original performers to write the script, and through this revival underscores the difficulties that black artists had at that time staying financially afloat. The musical also pays tribute to another Broadway star, Florence Mills. Her voice rivaled Gee, who could not help but acknowledge her star power. At the end of the musical, we find out about the latter stages of all of the characters’ lives, many of whom had longevity.

The show starts slowly, but the action begins to build through the music and the dance halfway into the first act. Initially, I was worried because too much time was spent “telling the story” instead of letting the action tell the story. As time elapses, the musical begins to live and breathe through its star characters. It begins to pick up speed through the choreography that threatens to overshadow the rest of the musical. McDonald’s voice is seductive, sultry, and smooth as she draws the audience in with her silky movement. When she sings “Daddy Won’t You Please Come Home,”we feel the sexiness in her voice and her love for Blake. The caliber of her voice and its range draw the audience in when she sings “I’m Just Wild About Harry” (made popular by Harry S. Truman). The energy of the dancers as they tap dance elevates the mood in contrast to some of the somber issues presented in the play. The racial issues of the time and the cultural norms of the day were respectfully handled. According to the story in Shuffle Along, the Gershwins, musical powerhouse of the twentieth century, misappropriate a few “musical Bars” from one of the musical’s songs, “Who Could Ask for Anything More (I Got Rhythm).” The musical acknowledges the  Gershwins creative genius, but does not neglect telling and playing the music to illustrate the misappropriation. This practice of misappropriation is common today. (Ask Robin Thicke and the estate of Marvin Gaye). Brian Stokes Mitchell, via his character in conversation with Lyles, exclaims that “They (white establishment) can kiss my black ass.” He even shows us his rear end as he says it. Portions of the musical may offend some audience members who have not processed our country’s racial history.

Savion Glover’s syncopated choreography coupled with great costumes is resplendent. Shuffle Along was the first musical to use jazz and tap dancing together. Jazz and tap are like peanut butter and jelly; one is generally not seen without the other. In one of the musical numbers, “Syncopated Stenos”, the music and dance illustrate the concept of syncopation within the tap choreography. Syncopation is the temporary displacement of the regular metrical accent as the weak beat is stressed. The dancers tap dance on the syncopated beat or counterpoint and the rhythms flow effortlessly in time, providing the dancers with rhythmic freedom. They tap dance with fierce determination redolent of the roaring twenties in total choral rhythm, moving their feet with neck breaking speed, song after song. Their costumes are short and sexy and  razzle and dazzle the mind while lighting up the stage against backdrops that illuminate the Broadway scene as the alliterative Jazz Jasmines, the Dancin’Boys, and the Jimtown Flappers tap dance with great precision and with great wonderment. Both McDonald and Adrienne Warren as Florence Mills wear long dresses representative of the 1920s as they sing and saunter across the stage.

Both the talented Audra McDonald and the choreography of Savion Glover are not to be missed. Currently, Wolfe and his creative team are still making changes in content and in delivery.  If adjustments are made in the first half regarding the storytelling, and if unessential songs that do not add much to the story are cut, this musical will be a sensation. Audra McDonald and Savion Glover might be strong contenders for Tony nominations. Opening night is April 28, 2016. Tony Award nominations will be announced April 29, 2016.

I give special thanks to Monifa Kincaid, a fabulous tap dancer, who helped me understand syncopation in tap dancing.

Magic in Imagination: A Review of Finding Neverland


Directed by Diane Paulus, Finding Neverland performed at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre is about igniting one’s imagination. It’s about wanting to be forever a “Toys R Us Kid”.  Neverland is a place for which many of us search. Matthew Morrison plays J.M. Barrie, Teal Wicks plays Marrie Barris, Laura Michelle Kelly plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Amy Yskima plays Peter Pan, and Eli Tokash plays Peter Llewelyn Davies.  This musical is not about Peter Pan, but it is the story of how Peter became Pan. Similar to the movie, Saving Mr. Banks, which tells us the backstory of Mary Poppins, Finding Neverland, delves into the life of J.M. Barrie and into his inspiration for creating Peter Pan. Capturing our attention at the outset of the musical, the musical catapults the audience to new heights of imagination through Peter Pan and Tinkerbell as Peter Pan is suspended in the air on stage with the light of Tinkerbell glowing. Finding Neverland, initially and intermittently, transports us to the world of Peter Pan through its two most famous characters in the story. One of the lines of the musical, “If a man does not fight for what he wants, he deserves what he gets,” captures the essence of the story. Barrie fights with tenacity to create a good work, in spite of his creative team and his wife doubting his creative genius. Although the writing lacks depth initially, the creative team makes up for what the show lacks. Through great sound design (heightened by the clock ticking), stupendous set design with awesome video projections of London, and lighting that either highlights or darkens the story’s arc, Paulus directs a performance that leaves one’s imagination ignited and one glad for taking a risk at seeing a musical that was not Tony nominated.

Used with courtesy

As the musical progressed, I became more enraptured with the story. This story was written for two audiences- children and adults. Young audiences will laugh and smile throughout the show. The dinner scene will leave them hungering and salivating for more scenes in which many of the adults are allowed to behave as children. The unfolding of the plot, and the sensitivity in which the story is told, allows the adults to empathize with the struggles of some of the main characters; however, the first half does not lend itself to connecting with Barrie’s difficulties. Everyone experiences difficulty that impedes his ability to create, but the devastation that Barrie must have felt at his lack of success in developing a new story, was not conveyed easily during the first half. There was no initial sense of devastation, or despair. Despite this shortcoming in the writing, the rest of the performace provides welcomed creative excitement that allows the audience to be overwhelmed with joy for Barrie, yet sorrowful for the Llwelyn Davies family. One of the more magnificent lines delivered in the musical is that without shadows there is no light. The lighting conveys the shadows of sorrow as well as the joys of tomorrow as Barrie’s life takes different turns with the Llwelyn Davies family. One knows no joy without having experienced sorrow.

The scene design was totally brilliant. Having recently traveled to London, the scene transported me back to London through video projections of London’s famous landmarks. The scenes in the park and in the Davies’s home were realistic. The juxtaposition of Davie’s home life, through the scenic design, with that of Barrie’s provides a great contrast to underscore how Barrie’s heart became tethered to Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her children.

Used with courtesy
Used with courtesy

The musical, through its sound design, gives the audience the impression that time is of the essence. Clocks ticking throughout the performance possibly let us know that time is fleeting, and that Barrie is running out of time for his next great creation. Like the old TV show, we wonder whether Barrie will “beat the clock.” Time runs out for Llewelyn Davies, but the clock keeps ticking for Barrie and the children. Imagine hearing tick tock, tick tock increasing in intensity throughout the performance as video projections of a clock illuminate the stage.

The acting performances were solid; however, the writing does not foster stellar moving performances. Many of the acting scenes, except for the dinner scene, the scene with Captain Hook, and the scene before the intermission were not emotionally charged. The special effects, the set design with all its glitz and glamour pull one into the story and into the emotional sequence of events. We understand Barrie’s heartbreak when Sylvia discloses her illness. Although beautifully acted, it lacks emotional intensity in the dialogue.

As a total performance Finding Neverland is worth seeing. The music is beautifully sung and some of the songs are powerfully delivered. It is enjoyable, but not at the level of some of the best musicals that grace Broadway’s stage. Adolescents and precocious young children will delight in seeing this musical. Many adults will like it for its creativity. It’s not Hamilton, The Lion King, or the original Les Mis, but for half price at TKTS, it’s definitely a great afternoon or evening night out. The audience leaves knowing that there is always hope for tomorrow and that brighter days are ahead in spite of life’s challenges and disappointments.


The Legacy of Alexander Hamilton: A Theatrical Review of Miranda’s Hamilton

imageLin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the hip hop historical musical about the rise and fall of the divisive Alexander Hamilton is the hottest ticket on Broadway, now playing at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Thomas Kail is its director.  It had its first theatrical run at the Public Theater early 2015, where it performed to sold out crowds for the entire season. It was impossible, except through the Public’s lottery, to get a ticket shortly after its debut. Although a member of the Public Theater, I snoozed on trying to purchase a ticket to see it. I did not rush to get a ticket because I did not think that I would be interested in a historical musical about Alexander Hamilton. All I remembered about him from both my high school and college days was his position on a national bank. As a result, I did not immediately try to purchase a ticket. Unfortunately, when I read stellar reviews, and tried to purchase a ticket, I could not get a ticket at the Public Theater. I tried multiple times to get a ticket through the lottery at the Public Theater, but to no avail. After the Public announced that the production was headed to Broadway, I knew that seeing it there would be my best option. The tickets to many of Hamilton‘s upcoming Broadway performances were selling out quickly. I managed to secure my ticket to see Hamilton several months before seeing it on October 15th ( I went alone because it was easier to get one ticket instead of two or more). In hindsight, I should have just purchased a ticket when It was announced as part of the Public Theater’s season. I should have relied on the strength of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s previous work, In the Heights, instead of thinking about whether I would be interested in a historical musical ( I also almost snoozed again on Eclipsed, starring Lupita Onyongo at The Public Theater). Miranda, inspired by the book Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, wrote the book, the lyrics, and the music for the musical. Miranda casts no well- known actors in the show to increase ticket sales, but his success is from adroitly written lyrics with synchronic music, dances performed with rhythmic precision through stunning choreography and acting performed with great intensity. If a performance is great, it need not have a Hollywood actor perform in order to have boffo box office sales. Hamilton is mostly played by people of color which gives them an opportunity to play roles that would have been conventionally denied to them because all of the historical figures that they depict are white. The perspicacious and talented Miranda plays the steadfast Hamilton, the sophisticated Leslie Odom plays the cunning and murderous Aaron Burr, the ruminating Christopher Jackson plays the intense president and commander George Washington, the Suave and debonair Daveed Diggs plays the honorable Lafayette and the double-minded Jefferson, the refined and comely Phillipa Soo plays the strong and memorable Eliza Hamilton, the humorous Jonathan Groff plays the bitter King George, and the resolute Okieriete Onaodowan (He was ill during the performance, but he never missed a beat) plays the determined James Madison. The remaining members of the cast grandly support the entire production. The entire cast and its creative team add heft to the show through excellent choreography, passionate acting and stupendous directing. The musical has accurate references to historical documents, historical events including the framing of the Constitution and the development of the Bill of Rights and it even metaphorically references Shakespeare’s Macbeth. That was pure creativity at its highest!

The cast

Alexander Hamilton, a man of letters, rises up from indigence and from orphan status. Newly arrived in the United States from St, Croix, he desires to have his “one shot” at success in spite of his past. He becomes George Washington’s right hand man during the American Revolution. The musical depicts both his personal and his political struggles. His views were often contrary to many of the other founding fathers, despite the forged friendship with Washington and with others that helped catapult his political career. The other founding fathers often vehemently disagree with Hamilton on how to manage the state’s economy. The musical focuses on Hamilton’s shortcomings as a husband and as a politician. It portrays the conflicts that he had with Aaron Burr, Jefferson, and Madison. The performance rivets the audience when Hamilton’s son is killed by Burr and when Hamilton himself is killed (that scene is awesomely choreographed and acted).

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Hamilton is electrifying, engaging, and inspiring! Its frenetic pace thoroughly engrosses its audience into the historical framework of the American Revolution and into the lives of our founding fathers, and the decades that follow. It leaves the audience wanting more, and even saying “my $165 (had I not snoozed it would have cost me less than half that amount) was well spent!”   “Yes, it really is that good”, to quote Ben Brantley of the New York Times. The characters have such vigor, such enthusiasm, such vibrancy, such palpable emotion that one feels all of the passion connected with the characters themselves. It causes refection of one’s own legacy. It causes the audience members to ponder who will write” my story”? And even makes one ask if he or she has a story to tell and how will it be told. With its ponderous conflict, the audience member makes connections with his own shortcomings, with his own indiscretions, with his own conflicts, internal and external, and with his own passionate political stances vehemently and sometimes detrimentally held. At the end of the performance during the finale, the question is asked: What is your legacy? It is then that the self- reflection begins, which caused me to do an introspection and to look circumspectly at my own life. It’s rare for a musical to entertain, educate, and inspire one to live a better life. Politically and personally, the events of Hamilton’s life mirror events of today (marital indiscretions and the woman who ultimately “stands by her man”, and “back door deals” in “the room where it happens” about which few know). All of the Washington politicians who have flocked to see this musical, may have paused for self-reflection.

Both the music and the lyrics of each song produce great synchronicity that one’s attention never leaves the stage. Miranda through his writings adeptly tells Hamilton’s story. The lyrics are clearly performed at a pace that allows the audience to hear and understand every rap uttered word. The words as well as the actions of the characters add great meaning to this historical figure. The story is told well mixing contemporary with traditional subject matter, allowing for a story, that otherwise may have been lackluster, to be told with such verve and with such ebullience that the applause seems to still be reverberating in my ears.That is pure genius! Last month, to further develop his craft as an artist, Miranda won a MacArthur Fellowship or Genius Grant of $625,000 paid over five years. Rush to get your tickets. You may not be able to see it until the spring or later, unless, like me, you only need a single ticket. Trust me, you will not be disappointed!

The Staging of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I

The King and I performed at The Lincoln Center Theater
The King and I performed at The Lincoln Center Theater. Used with permission.

I had been looking forward to seeing The King and I directed by Andre Bishop at the Lincoln Center Theater all year. When it was announced that Ken Wantanabe was going to play the role as king, I was excited. I looked forward to seeing him in the role as king. I, however, did not know that he had just ended his last performance of the show on July 12th, and that Jose Llana, from The Public Theater’s Here Lies Love ( I did not see it) would be taking over the role. He, to my surprise, was stunning as king, despite lacking the traditional stature that one typically associates with a king. Kelli O’hara, who plays the role of Anna, won her first Tony Award for her performance.  Ruthie Ann Miles,( also from Here Lies Love) the Tony award winner for her portrayal of Lady Thiang, plays a genteel, and at times austere (her interaction with Tuptim shows her austerity) royal wife.  She also sings beautifully with an excellent range. A colleague and friend, who saw The King and I a few days before me, sent me an email to me about the performance.  His email caused me to reflect on something that I might not have thought about otherwise about the performance. He said, “When I first saw the show as a boy, I was at a small community theater production, and I identified with the kids.  When I saw it again in Atlanta in my 20’s, I identified with the young lovers.  When I directed it at my school in my 40’s, I identified with Anna. But at Lincoln Center I felt the greatest connection to the King, whose position required him to appear calm and confident, but who struggled constantly with doubts about how to do the right thing.” Thus, as I began to watch the staging of this performance, those ideas were percolating within my brain. I saw the film version many years ago, but it did not prepare me for the: stunning choreography, the royally staged set, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s music, Thai costumes, well-developed script, acting gesticulations, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (from the show). And, what I learned from the performance will stay with me forever.

Kelli, O'hara as Anna Used with Permission
Kelli, O’hara as Anna
Used with Permission
Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang.   Used with Permission

The King and I, set in the early 1860’s, and based on the novel, Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon, tells the story of a strong-willed resolute English school teacher who goes to Thailand to teach young children English. She becomes acquainted with the equally headstrong King of Siam, who hired her, and who has a harem and countless (although he counts them) children. The King worries about colonization from the French and from the British (Thailand is the only southeastern Asian country to not be colonized), as well as how other nations perceive him. He gets word that world leaders see him as a barbarian, and he, therefore, asks Anna to help him, his royal wives, and his children learn some European customs and behaviors so that he will appear less barbaric when they come to visit.  The Thai women, however, see some of the English customs as strange, although they willingly try to learn them. Throughout the story there is conflict between Anna and the King, because each other’s customs are contrary to what the other has learned. Anna does not believe in polygamy, but believes that a woman should not be given as a present, unwillingly, to a man. Tuptim, a woman from Burma, was given to the King as a wife. Tuptim does not love him, and runs away with her lover, but not before the performance of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” in traditional Thai attire (pun intended) that includes a cultural ballet. “The Small House of Uncle Thomas” was a restaging of, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the famous novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe. That restaging was the backdrop for the story about the confines that are placed on people against their will, and how people work assiduously, vehemently, and often treacherously to shake the shackles that bind.  In the end, Tuptim is captured, and her lover is killed. Flogging is the traditional castigation. Anna pleads for mercy for Tuptim, seemingly to no avail.  But, at the moment that the king begins to flog Tuptim, Anna calls him a barbarian. That word has a dehumanizing effect on him, causing him a moment of reflection. He does not inflict the punishment, but he is never the same afterward. He wants to do what is right and he struggles with the internal and external conflict. The King and Anna do not speak for some time. He later relinquishes his kingdom to his son, adeptly played by Jon Viktor Corpuz.. Before the king’s death, he and Anna reconcile their differences and she is given everything for which she asked. The new King, subsequently, annuls some of the customs that his father previously embraced, because they do not advance kingdom harmony, but rather have the effect of denigrating the royal wives, the townspeople, and the children.

The most fabulous part of this performance was its staging. The stage was extended downstage allowing the audience to have a more intimate interaction with the characters, especially if one were sitting in the orchestra. At times during the performance, the actors were placed upstage, and that had the effect of giving the King more power over his subjects, but when he moved downstage, the audience could see his humanity and the internal struggle with the social mores of the time. For example, during the staging of the play within the play, the actors were downstage and placed close to the audience. The staging of “The Small House of Uncle Thomas”, was the best part of the play. The choreography of traditional Thai dance with its grand costumes was beautiful. It was captivating and that part of the script illuminated the conflict that society has with its own popular or unpopular mores, illuminating the unpopular social fabric that is deeply embedded within cultures around the world. The pillars that moved up and down and sideways, superbly and dynamically portrayed the royal kingdom without overwhelming the audience with an overly ornate set.The set design and the costumes give us a glimpse into Thai culture. The staging of the set allows the audience to establish the significance of each scene. When the play within the play is staged downstage, the pillars of the kingdom are no longer on the stage. This allows the audience to focus on “the play within the play” and to take the focus off of the eminence of the king and his physical palace. That scene was aesthetically pleasing as the blocking helped the audience to focus on Tuptim and possibly identify with her longing to be free. On the otherhand, the chandeliers (European and not Thai), that were placed upstage during the dinner that the King had for his European guests, allowed his guests to see the king in a new light. He was placed further away from the audience also enabling the audience to see his eminence.

Jose Llana as the King of Siam Used with Permission
Jose Llana as the King of Siam
Used with Permission

Tuptim, played by Ashley Park, gave a noteworthy performance. I identified with her desire to be free from the ties that bound her to the King. As she tells the story of Eliza and her desire to escape from slavery, I could feel the anticipation of her own imminent escape. Also, I could not help but feel that some audience members reflected on a time in which they wanted to be with their lover, but were not allowed. When she interacted with her lover, Lun Tha, played by Conrad Ricamora, the chemistry between them was passionate.

The music was well conducted as the actors moved and danced with precision to some of the most famous tunes in musicals. Kelli O’ Hara, sang “Getting to Know You” beautifully. While watching the show, the gentleman sitting next to me tried hard, although at times unsuccessfully, to resist humming the tunes. When Anna and Llana danced to  “Shall we Dance”, they moved around downstage waltzing to the music that transfixed the audience. I wanted more.  A reprise at the end would have been great. The passion  with which they danced, though unspoken, was evident.

*Personal Note*

I identified most with Tuptim and with Lady Thiang. I identified with Tuptim because sometimes I have followed my heart even when others around me did not agree with decisions that I wanted to make.  Sometimes the decisions that we make do not always turn out as planned, but as Polonius said in Hamlet, “This above all: to thine own/self be true.”  Tuptim’s actions were at a great personal cost, but she was willing to do what she felt was best for her. Throughout history, people have wanted freedom from social constraints that often limit our experiences. Tuptim was no different.  Moreover, I also identified with Lady Thiang. She has to make a difficult decision to confront Tuptim and her illicit love affair. Even though the play did not show her grappling with the decision to confront Tuptim, I believe that she struggled with making such a difficult decision. Sometimes, I have had to make an unpopular decision to expose something that had the potential of harming others.  Most people ignore the situation because they do not want to get involved with exposing something perceived as wrong.  Usually people say, ” Who am I to judge?”

Please see this performance.  It is beautiful, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera! Those are the most often repeated words in this musical and any other musical I know. Those words, each time uttered, brought a smile to my face. Until the next time, when a review of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child is posted.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch

Music and Dance : Who Could Ask for Anything More?

Now playing at the Palace Theater on Broadway.

Viewed on May 28, 2015

Robert Fairchild leaping over props. Used with permission.

Having spent a semester in paris during the eighties, I am particularly enamored with all things Parisian. I love the language, the food, the architecture, the historical places, and the art.  All of these things make me smile. When I first heard that An American in Paris was coming to Broadway, I knew that I would imminently see the show. Because I am a movie enthusiast, I looked forward to seeing the musical rendition of this film. Although Paris is just the setting of the show, the writer, Craig Lucas, manages to infuse some of the language and the culture of Paris into An American in Paris. The musical is both directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, a former dancer for both the New York City Ballet and for the Royal Ballet. This musical is his directorial debut.  The creative team includes: Robert Fisher, musical arranger, Bob Crowley, set and costume designer, Craig Lucas, the book’s author, and Natasha Katz, lighting designer.  The principal actors are Robert Fairchild who plays Jerry Mulligan, the American, and Leanne Cope, who plays Lise Dassin, the woman he loves. Having received twelve Tony nominations this season, An American in Paris is one of the forerunners for best musical. In An American in Paris, the dancers leap and move flawlessly, holding the attention of the audience as it waits to see whether the dancers will land dynamically with precision.  They leap over furniture and dance in tandem to music by George and Ira Gershwin. After careful reflection, I wondered what was most important in a musical. Was it the music, the acting, the dancing, or the story? Does a theater-goer go to the theater to see the creative set design, the lighting, or the audio? Do the traditional conventions of theater matter? I have come to the conclusion that normally a great well-defined story is essential, but if there are other great strong creative elements, then the musical may be catapulted to even greater heights.

Charles Isherwood of the New York Times said that this musical is typical of Broadway musicals. This comment was not pejorative, but intended to show that it maintains the typical structure of Broadway musicals. I disagree; it is atypical. I believe that there is significantly less singing (not less music) than in traditional musicals and the story is less defined. The acting is mostly encompassed within the dance compositions. At the inception of this performance, I was disappointed, because I was accustomed to a traditional musical with a more well-defined plot and more intense acting and singing. I, however in the end, came to see this musical as levels above a traditional music, for the dancing and the choreography of this musical is veritably unparalleled. The costumes for the dancers and for the prima dancer, are exquisite.  Although the story is less developed in the first half, it becomes more defined during the second half. After intermission, the action and the tempo rise in the musical to a pace that allows the audience to become captivated by the arrangement of Gershwin’s music and by both the dance and choreography. The story becomes sharper as the dancers leap in grande jete fashion into the air and over props, further enthralling the audience and causing the viewers to applaud and say bravo at the end of the performance.The dancers seamlessly integrate dance and music within the choreography with contemporary and jazz vernacular.

An American in Paris is the story of an American soldier, Jerry Mulligan, who decides to stay in Paris after the Great War so that he can become a painter. He meets Lise Dessin, a Jewish woman, who was hidden by a French family during the war. He soon realizes that he is not the only one trying to woo her. She feels, however, an allegiance to the French family, especially the son, Henri, expertly played by Max Von Essen.  Lise is an accomplished ballerina and she works to hone her craft so that she can perform adroitly in a performance. The story is about love and internal conflict. This story is about staying true to oneself and about reconciling conflict so that true love prevails.

This musical was all about the dancing, the choreography, and the music that make this show a stunning success, not the story.  It has the audience wanting more at the end.  The dancers demonstrated a variety of movements including pirouettes as they use props when leaping perfectly in such a way that one’s eyes remain focused on all of the movements.  The chemistry between Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope is strong and it keeps the audience hoping that they will work through their conflict so that they can be together. The dancers light up this show with their bright resplendent costumes. Toward the end of the performance, all of the dancers line up across the stage and do a number similar to the NYC Rockettes when they sing, One Singular Sensation.” At the end, both the dancers and the singers reprise the song, “I Got Rhythm,” and sing, “Who could ask for anything more.” Indeed, I asked myself, who could ask for anything more?

Used with permission

There are not many Broadway shows that I would pay the full price to see twice, but this show is one of them. I wanted the music and the dance to continue. At the Tony Awards, will this musical be a juggernaut? An American in Paris should win for best choreography, best direction, best costumes, and maybe best set design. It is also likely to win for best musical. I do not profess to understand the meaning behind the geometric design of parts of the set, but the set looked beautiful. If I see it a second time, I may have more insight into the meaning behind parts of the design.  Sunday evening, June 7th, is the Tony Awards. I look forward with great expectation to seeing this musical and Something Rotten, two of my favorite musicals this year, take top honors. I admit that my ticket to The King and I is after the Tony Awards; thus, I can not comment on whether it will take some top honors as well. Enjoy the awards and let’s start a conversation.

*Special thanks to Monifa Kinkaid and Fahrod Jacelon both who helped me to understand ballet terminology.

Deirdre M. DeLoatch
Deirdre M. DeLoatch