Arts theater review

An American in Paris dazzles Boston

Tony-award winning musical kicks off its nationwide tour in spectacular fashion

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An American in Paris National Touring Company
Matthew Murphy

An American in Paris
Wang Theatre
Oct. 25 - Nov. 6

I write this review laboriously, agonizing over every word. Because I know I'm trying to do justice to a performance that, to me, cannot be appreciated in a mere chunk of text. An American in Paris, the Tony-award winning musical, is essential viewing for anyone who has ever admired art or beauty in the world, and that's all that really needs to be said. But, at the very minimum, I believe I can bring some more attention to this musical, in the hopes that some of our readers will be lucky enough to see this and make the holy pilgrimage to the theatre. That's all I aspire to do.

An American in Paris nearly had me in tears. Not just once, or twice, or three times — I was continually overwhelmed with a range of ineffably blissful emotions. I'd be taking in the iconic music, the flawless dancing, the set, the acting, the story… and I'd be overcome with such an appreciation for being alive, in that theatre, sitting in that seat, experiencing such a beautiful performance.

The music incorporates the work of the great George Gershwin. If the name isn't familiar, you'll know his piece “Rhapsody in Blue,” perhaps from Fantasia 2000. The soaring, jazzy sounds captured the hectic atmosphere of 1930's Depression New York, and Gershwin's skillful scoring melds into the perfect ambience for postwar Paris. Above all else, the music incites the curiosity and drives the passion of our characters.

World War II has just ended at the opening of the musical. Our star, American GI Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner), decides to stay in Paris to pursue his dreams of drawing, searching for adventure. He quickly meets two friends, another ex-soldier, the cynical Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), who's working as a pianist, and his French companion, Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler). Henri is a shy, courteous fellow who aspires to be a big-time showman, against the wishes of his parents. Adam and Henri start rehearsing some sets, leading our three main men to break out into "I Got Rhythm."

This is arguably Gershwin's catchiest song. Its simple chord progression has been used so many times that jazz musicians have given it its own name — "Rhythm" changes. Its lyrics lift your spirits — "I got rhythm, I got music, I got my gal/Who could ask for anything more?"

The story picks up speed when both Jerry and Adam manage to fall in love with the petite and lovely ballerina, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty), who, we quickly find out, is betrothed to Henri. Her character arc and development are gripping, and Esty captures her fragility and confusion.

Not enough can be said about the dancing. An American in Paris is full of ballet and show dancing — there are even performances within the performance. Garen Scribner's athleticism and energy are a delightful mix, and Sara Esty's excellent ballet betrays her experience as a soloist for Miami City Ballet.

The final number, "They Can't Take That Away from Me," a hopeful ballad from the trio of leading men, reflects the experience of seeing An American in Paris. It will bury itself in your heart, never to be extricated, ready to surface whenever you need to call upon a blissful memory or an exquisite moment.