By Jennifer Mustoe and Caden Mustoe
As fans of the music of George and Ira Gershwin, my son and I were thrilled to be able to see the Eccles’ latest production, Tony Award-winning An American in Paris, located in downtown Salt Lake City. Patterned after the Academy Award-winning 1951 movie An American in Paris, this Broadway show is now in Salt Lake, and Un Americain a Paris est formidable et magnifique. No, the show isn’t in French. But the French influence is wonderful.
The stage holds a beautiful spotlighted piano and a fuzzy-looking gigantic projected image of the Arc de Triomphe behind. Projected images by 59 Productions are one of the many fantastic technical aspects of the show. I will try to describe one of these images. As we are introduced to Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) and he’s running the streets of Paris, images are projected onto a big screen behind the stage. It is of Paris in blacks, greys, and blues–buildings that are then sketched in with white–we see the sketching. It is awesome. Other projections are of the Seine with real boats attached to the top left corner for a 3-D effect, a fancy theater, and other city images. They are magnificent and so inventive.
The show begins with Adam Hochberg (Stephen Brower) sitting at the piano, narrating the story. Hochberg was Caden’s favorite and there are many reasons why this actor is so appealing. First, he’s very funny and seems approachable. His character, a composer, is an introverted genius with little confidence and lots of talent. It’s right after WWII and people are everywhere–glad the war is over, but sort of in a “now what?” place. Many have lost everything and fear is still very present. They’ve been through hell. Hochberg befriends the displaced American ex-soldier Jerry Mulligan, who wants to be an artist, and they both become friends with Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), a textiles heir who wants to be a cabaret singer. Baurel was my favorite character–Spangler is precise, affable, has a lovely voice and can dance wonderfully. I liked his sweetness and also his desire to break out of the mold where his parents want him to stay.
Because this is a love story set in the 40s and patterned after a movie from the early 50s, each of the men fall in love with one woman, Lise Dassin (Sara Esty) a shopgirl who wants to be a prima ballerina. Lise (pronounced leez) was protected by Henri’s family during the war (she’s Jewish) and she feels beholden to them and accepts Henri’s proposal. However, in the meantime, Jerry has created a relationship with her where she can be “Liza”, and dance and have fun and fall in love for real. Poor Hochberg never declares his love and just loves her from afar as he is writing the ballet she is to perform in. She had auditioned with a company and they made her the star. Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), the rich American socialite, funds the ballet and falls in love with Jerry and gets him the artistic gig of designing for the ballet.
As the story plays out, we are awash with many wonderful things:
- The music. (Score adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rob Fisher). The glorious, glorious music, composed by Ira and George Gershwin. When I was in college in the late 80s, my mother gave me a cassette of the most popular Gershwin songs. All were included in this production of An American in Paris. So as not to embarrass my son, I didn’t actually belt out the songs as they were being performed onstage (though it was hard not to) but I hummed quietly. Yes, I did. Music Director David Andrews Rogers brings “I Got Rhythm”, “The Man I Love”, “S Wonderful”, “Shall We Dance?”, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and many others to us in perfection. Every song is marvelous. The live orchestra is such a treat as so many Utah houses don’t use one.
- The dancing (Director/Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon). Oh, the dancing. This is the most dance heavy show I’ve ever seen, bar none. It has everything–ballet obviously as this is Lise’s passion, but so much more. The dancing glows in An American in Paris. There’s everything–ballet, tap, ballroom, and all perfect. The dancing to Gershwin compositions is just about the best you can get. Straight up. Each of the leads are beautiful dancers, but I particularly liked the ensemble numbers–so reminiscent of the big musicals from the past. As we were driving home, I said, “I saw a lot of Gene Kelly in the choreography.” Caden said, “And Bob Fosse.” Really, what is better than this?
- The costumes (Bob Crowley). I can picture in my mind right now the many costumes for the many scenes: ballet costumes, fun 40s costumes with high-waisted slacks for men, big shoulder-padded jackets and dresses for the women. Lush ballgowns on Milo. It was a feast for the eyes of this costume-loving actress.
- The sets, also by Crowley. There were many movable pieces, and a fun detail was much of the moving of set pieces, chairs and so forth, was incorporated into dance. There were big mirror-like pieces on wheels that often hid costumes changes right onstage. Everything moved quickly and easily, which made the show flow flawlessly.
- Lighting Design (Natasha Katz) and Sound Design (Jon Weston) also spectacular, also without a hitch.
The plot is not one that requires a lot of thought or worry. It’s formulaic. But the beauty of An American in Paris is the themes: what we do for art, what real love is, how do we heal as a society from the devastation of war, and how those themes are told in song and dance. Many of the dances told the story without a lyric sung or a word of dialogue spoken.
As far as the details of the show, if you have a child dancer in your family, bring him or her. However, there are a few slight swears and the show is almost three hours long, so take this into consideration. The show was packed, so get your tickets quick. A fun note: there were all kinds of people in all kinds of clothing at this show. Many were in casual or came right from work clothes. But many were in fancy go to the theater clothes. If you like to dress up, here’s the place to do it. The staff at the Eccles are marvelous–helpful, kind, professional. There are snacks and drinks if you want to purchase them. Also, you can park at the Salt Lake Central station (the Blue Line) and take free Trax into town, get off at the City Center stop and walk the short distance to the Eccles Theater.
An American in Paris at the Eccles is truly a delight and a once in a lifetime chance to see so much beauty and Gershwin all onstage together. Bring family and friends to this fantastic spectacle of American theater.
Broadway at the Eccles presents An American in Paris by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin (music) and Craig Lucas (book)
Delta Hall at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main Street, SLC, UT 84111
October 10-15, W/Th 7:30 PM, F/S 8:00 PM, Sat 2:00 PM, Sunday 1:00 PM, 6:30 PM
Contact: 385-468-1030, email@example.com
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