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