Theater

Review: 'An American in Paris' at Drury Lane

Staged production of 'An American in Paris' shines

"An American in Paris" is playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through March 29.
"An American in Paris" is playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through March 29.

The regional premiere of the stage musical “An American in Paris” is playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace through March 29. This musical play was adapted for the stage by internationally acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. It opened December 2014 in Paris and April 2015 on Broadway. The book was written by Broadway-actor-turned-playwright Craig Lucas. The Broadway production won four out of the 11 Tony Awards for which it was nominated.

“An American in Paris” was a 1951 film musical inspired by George Gershwin's 1928 orchestral composition of the same name. Starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary and Nina Foch, it was directed by Vincente Minelli. The music was composed by Gershwin with lyrics by his brother, Ira, and additional music by Saul Chaplin. The movie was an enormous success, earning eight Academy Award nominations and winning six, including Best Picture.

The setting is Paris in 1945 just after World War II, as the city springs back to life from the ashes of war. Adam, an American GI, remains in the City of Light working as a pianist and composer. This American in Paris serves as the show's narrator. Jerry, another vet, deliberately misses his train home to nurture his passion for painting in the City of Art.

They meet at a cafe where Henri, the son of wealthy French industrialists, is rehearsing the nightclub act that he hopes to perform when he moves to America. After difficult wartime experiences, this trio is pursuing art and love in an attempt to rebuild their lives. They strike up a friendship, imagine a brighter future and dub themselves the Three Musketeers.

Henri is writing a letter proposing marriage to his longtime sweetheart. Jerry falls in love with a young woman on his first day in Paris when he sees her sharing a baguette with someone less fortunate.

Adam is attracted to the young dancer hired as prima ballerina with the ballet company that he accompanies. It will not be a spoiler to fans of the movie or the musical comedy genre to learn that all three men are in love with the same woman. Lise studied ballet in Monte Carlo but was displaced during the war to Paris where she has been toiling as a shop girl.

Another prominent character is Milo, a headstrong American philanthropist and entrepreneur, who recognizes the various talents of Lise, Adam and Jerry and promotes them to Ballet Director Maestro Z. She falls in love with Jerry and becomes entwined in all of their lives.

The Drury Lane cast is led by some superb triple threat performers: Josh Drake as Jerry Mulligan, Leigh-Ann Esty as Lise Dassin, Skyler Adams as Adam Hochberg, Will Skrip as Henri Baurel and Erica Evans as Milo Davenport. Also notable are Caron Buinis and Neil Friedman as Madame and Monsieur Baurel, Sawyer Smith as Mr. Z and Trevor McChristian as Lise's dance partner.

The creative team truly succeeds in bringing the City of Art to life on the Drury Lane stage. Scenic designer Kevin Depinet provides tattered framing pieces colorfully painted by Projection designer Kevan Loney. Costume designer Kari Green contributes an array of exquisitely tailored dresses, coats, couture and party frocks.

This exquisite production provides a panoply of pleasures. The first is arguably the familiar Gershwin tunes. The musical retains "I Got Rhythm," "'S Wonderful" and "Stairway to Paradise" from the film and interpolates “(I've Got) Beginner's Luck,” “The Man I Love,” “Liza,” “Who Cares?,” “But Not For Me" and “They Can't Take That Away From Me” from the Gershwin catalog. These Hit Parade standards have been reinvented as duets, trios and dance extravaganzas.

Equally thrilling are the exceptional dance elements – extended ballet, tap and jazz numbers. Tying everything together are the bright, hilarious book scenes. Director/choreographer Lynne Kurdziel-Formato oversees all these elements with diverse and extraordinary skills. Even the scene changes are remarkable.

• Richard Pahl has worked as an actor and director for more than 40 years. While serving two terms on Elgin's Cultural Arts Commission, he produced its Page To Stage play reading series. He currently is directing “The Tin Woman” for Elgin Theatre Company and “Aging With Grace and Humor” which is a fundraiser for the Elgin Senior Center. Most recently he staged Thornton Wilder's “The Long Christmas Dinner” for Janus Theatre.

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