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An American in Paris: Love with Wings

In this time of upsetting world and national events, Washington, DC's Kennedy Center Opera House is blessed to be running performances of the multi-award-winning ballet musical An American in Paris. The Dresser saw the December 14, 2017 performance and declares with gusto that every element of this two-and-a-half-hour show with music by brothers George and Ira Gershwin and book by Craig Lucas is smartly uplifting and without gratuitous schmaltz.


This story set in post-WWII Paris features an American soldier who lingers in Paris to pursue his art career and is swept off his feet by a French girl who is hiding something about her past. Quickly a wealthy American woman with a lot of money latches on to him romantically and brings his friends and this girl together in a ballet she bankrolls.


The dancing, particularly by McGee Maddox (in the role of Jerry Mulligan) and Allison Walsh (in the role of Lise Dassin) is winged with exuberance and seemingly effortless skill. Many of the numbers, particularly those with the impressive projections (projection designer: 59 Productions) along a walkway on the Seine River, capture what we film aficionados adore about the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. This musical, inspired by the film of the same name, won three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards as well as four Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards and many other honors.

The accomplished team of performers are flawless in their ability to act, sing, and dance. The creative team includes Tony Award-winners Bob Crowley (set and costume designer) and Natasha Katz (lighting designer). The Dresser cannot say enough about the combined elements of set components with projections--they are rich and worth the price of admission on their own. The Gershwin music, such as "I Got Rhythm" and "But Not for Me" soar under the baton of David Andrews Rogers who at intermission was talking to audience members peering into the orchestra pit to see if the show was making them happy.


While all the numbers were deeply satisfying perhaps the most unique was the dancing with chairs to "Fidgety Feet" in the second and final act. Hats off to Sam Davis and his dance arrangements and Dontee Kiehn associate director and associate choreographer.

In Mike White's poem "Love," a love-struck person is literally so much up in the air that he/she sees the beloved from outer space. Still this person is not unaware of the darkness that surrounds us here on earth. An American in Paris also acknowledges the darkness and we see in opening scenes a Nazi banner turning into the French flag as a group of onlookers out a woman deemed a collaborator. This is the landscape of the love story with thorns.


You mean the world to me, meaning
the only way to see you
is from outer space.
As you know
I have little aptitude
for space travel.
Like the monkey
they launched into orbit
I tend to push buttons at random
and eat too much people food.
Where am I going with this thing? I know
the dark is all around us, love.
I'm out here waving to you, only to you
round and green and blue.

by Mike White
from https://waywiser-press.com/mike-white-2">Addendum to a Miracle

Photo Credits: Matthew Murphy


Comments (1)

Jay Rogoff:

Karren is exactly right to mention Astaire & Rogers. The show's spirit is much more like Astaire than Gene Kelly, who starred in the famous film, and no one has a more Astaire-like lightness of touch than Robbie Fairchild, who starred in the original Bway production. I found the show mixed. The show dances are swell, esp "Fidgety Feet," which Karren mentions, and "Beginner's Luck," an Astaire-like romp over the display cases in a dept store. The actual "American in Paris" ballet within the show is kind of a mess, and Lise's role is seriously underwritten. Her character is so winsome in the Leslie Caron gamine mode that she and Jerry, the lead, never generate much heat. A number Jerry has with Milo, the rich socialite who pursues him, is more adult & thus much more satisfying. The choreography, by the way, is by Christopher Wheeldon, who also directed the original show. Sam Davis, mentioned above, seems to have been responsible for staging Wheeldon's dances, but he didn't create them.

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