Cynics, take note. Romance is alive and well at the Palace Theater, where An American in Paris, the lush, unapologetically old-fashioned musical has hung up its beret. Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, and featuring a songbook of Gershwin classics, this portrait of post-war Paris delivers optimism, alive and well – both about romance and about art.
Playwright Craig Lucas has written the book for this musical, which expands on the famous 1951 movie starring Gene Kelly. Aspiring painter Jerry Mulligan, played the superb dancer and onstage heartthrob Robert Fairchild, is living in Paris following the war and immediately falls for the quiet Lise, played by the equally excellent Leanne Cope. As their paths continue to cross, Jerry befriends hopeful composer Adam Hochberg (Brandon Uranowitz, very endearing and funny) and Henri Baurel, a businessman who longs to be a nightclub singer. Henri is played by the seasoned musical theatre actor Max von Essen, whose second-act showstopper “Stairway to Paradise” is one of the show’s many highlights. Throw in a lovelorn American heiress (Jill Paice) and a few love triangles form, as well as a beautiful new ballet.
Politics and religion, as well as continuing fear from the war, are part of the story as well, but it’s passion that abounds onstage, both between the characters and their romantic interests and the performers and the dance numbers they perform on Bob Crowley’s evocative and fluid sets. These are romantic interests one can imagine being passionate after the curtain goes down.