An American In Paris Broadway Show Review

Posted by: on Apr 13, 2015 | No Comments


Major disclaimers:
1) I am not a Broadway Show critic by any stretch of the imagination.
2) I have been to the ballet, I can appreciate ballet, but I am not a big fan of ballet.
3) An American In Paris, the movie version starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, is one of my favorite movies of all time.
4) In my opinion, The American In Paris Ballet scene (which is way more than a ballet) at the end of the movie is the greatest 20 minutes (or so) in any movie musical.

With that  out of the way….Linda and I saw the new Broadway show version of American In Paris this past Saturday, which is being promoted as a “re-imagining of an American classic.” The audience seemed to really like it and the reviews I have read have been generally positive. I could not have been more disappointed.

Other than the title, the storyline barely resembles the movie. In the new version, it is just after WWII has ended, Paris has been destroyed, there is post-war anxiety, there are Nazis, there is guilt, and the feeling is of general depression (exactly how I felt when the show was over). Adam – the frustrated composer, a wonderful curmudgeon in the movie, is an injured soldier, who seems to be a slightly whiny NY area Jew (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Henri – the debonair French singer/entertainer in the movie, works in the family business, has a very lilty laugh instead of a great voice, may or may not be gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that either), and is not quite the toast of the town entertainer he is portrayed as in the movie. Lise, is an upcoming ballet dancer who was separated from her parents during the war, was hidden by Henri’s family, and in the new version, she’s Jewish. Why?  I don’t know! As for our leading man, Jerry Mulligan – the aspiring American artist, he can flit through the air with the greatest of ease but he’s no Gene Kelly, and never will be. And the ages of the characters doesn’t resemble the movie or match this new storyline at all. Still scratching my head over this one.

I understand it might be unfair to compare this version with the 1951 movie classic but why did they rip the soul out of the movie out so completely? In the movie, the I Got Rhythm scene features Gene Kelly and a group of adorable French children. Jerry (the Gene Kelly character) talks about Americana, interacts with the people on the street, and shows off his various dance steps. It was wonderful. On Broadway, there are no adorable children, no great tap dancing, and I Got Rhythm starts off like a funeral march that builds to an ending that is supposed to mirror the rebuilding of Paris, or something like that.  It was during this scene that I realized I was in for a long night; that everything I loved about the movie had been tossed into the trash heap like an old pair of ballet slippers.

In the movie, Jerry falls in love with Lise who is engaged to Henri, to form our love triangle. In the show, Adam also loves Lise, so we have a love quadrangle? In the movie, Jerry is an inspiring artist.  In the show, we barely see Jerry’s art and he is the set designer for the ballet that will feature Lise, thanks to his patron saint, Milo Roberts. Going back to the difference in age thing I mentioned before, in the movie, Milo is quite a bit older than Jerry, which created a certain dynamic. In the show, there is no apparent age difference and that dynamic is gone. The same could be said of the relationship between Henri and Lise. In the movie, Henri is old enough to be Lise’s father, and her youth makes him feel like a younger man in love. In the show, that dynamic is also none existent. As a matter of fact (actually my opinion), there was no great chemistry between any of the characters in this production.

In the movie, Jerry is our American in Paris. In the show, Lise tells Adam he is the American in Paris (and there is something oh so wrong with that). In the movie, there are great scenes featuring all types of dancing. In the show, you have ballet, ballet, and more ballet. In the movie, you have wonderful soundtrack that features many wonderful Gershwin classics backed by a symphony orchestra. The Broadway orchestra sounded a bit too light and tinny for my ear, and seemed to be lacking a few key instruments. In the movie, the American in Paris Ballet scene features wonderful costumes, a variety of great dance scenes that form this “ballet,” changes in mood and lighting. All of which is meant to highlight the variety of life, art, culture, fashion and romance in Paris during the 40s and 50s. In the show, there is none of that, the worst of it being the abstract art/geometric designed costumes the dancers wear. This was supposed to be Paris and I still can’t figure out where the hell those costumes came from.

I could go on but that I’d probably bore you as much as this show bored me. If you love ballet, go see this new version of an American In Paris.  If you are expecting something that might remind you of the classic movie musical, there is nothing that remotely resembles what Gene Kelly, the Gershwins and the creative team behind the movie version of An American In Paris imagined back in in 1951 (except the name). The movie was almost perfect and this new version only makes me appreciate the original that much more.