“When you think of Paris, what comes to mind?” This question, posed somewhat oddly to the audience, sets the tone for An American in Paris, the musical adaptation of the 1951 film of the same name now playing at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. While it is a bit off-putting to hear audience members shouting out “the Eiffel Tower” or “pastries,” it prepares you for a crowd-pleasing stage show that is more ballet than musical, with a colorful, lovely exterior masking a lack of any real depth beneath.
This production debuted in Paris before opening on Broadway in 2015, where it ran for over a year and won four Tony Awards. The music, by George and Ira Gershwin, is extremely recognizable—”I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful,” and “Shall We Dance” are all featured, although there is remarkably little singing. It is unusual to see a musical where the actors are completely silent during the lengthy scene that serves as the climax of the plot, allowing the dancing and the orchestra to shine, but that is what An American in Paris presents, with lovely direction and Tony-winning choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.
The plot is convenient at best—Jerry (Garen Scribner), an American soldier, opts to remain in Paris at the end of World War II to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist. He almost immediately has a meet cute with a mysterious woman, Lise (Sara Esty), and begins to pursue her in a way that teeters between romantic and creepily obsessive, refusing to take no for an answer and intentionally mispronouncing her name, which she somehow finds charming. Jerry also befriends two other men, Adam (Etai Benson), an up-and-coming composer and fellow veteran, and Henri (Nick Spangler), a wealthy Parisian and aspiring singer and dancer. They bond so quickly they refer to themselves as the Three Musketeers, but—wait for it—they all fall in love with Lise, although of course they do not realize they are all pining over the same woman until well into act two. To complicate this odd love pentagon even further, Jerry is also pursued by Milo (Emily Ferranti), an aggressive philanthropist determined to make him a star. She commissions a short ballet composed by Adam, designed by Jerry, and starring Lise, titled, of course, An American in Paris. As all of this unfolds, Lise struggles to reconcile a deep emotional debt to Henri, to whom she is engaged but does not love, with her newfound passionate connection with Jerry.
There is something very classic in a lovely way about this show, with the sweeping orchestrations and beautiful imagery. If you were a fan of La La Land, there are many similarities to be found, from the romantic, old-Hollywood feel to a prominently featured yellow dress. It is unfortunate that the characters are so two-dimensional, their personality traits fitting neatly into stereotypical boxes with little that is surprising about them. Jerry in particular is almost comparable to Gaston (to reference another movie with a yellow dress), annoyingly self-centered and used to getting what he wants. His romance with Lise has little basis beyond physical chemistry and some dancing rendezvous. As for Lise, she is given the most backstory, but it is expected and ultimately the only thing to define her beyond her gifts as a ballerina. It is also worth noting that when it comes time for the climactic performance of the titular short ballet, which also serves as a vehicle for Lise to realize her true feelings for Jerry, the dance itself has no discernible plot, and it’s extremely unclear how it portrays an American and/or Paris.
What An American in Paris does well, it does very well. It is most likely to appeal to fans of ballet and dance, and it is difficult to not be swept up in the beauty of the choreography, which is exquisitely performed by a talented cast. The whole spectacle makes for a lovely couple hours at the theater, although if you are expecting a fully realized Broadway musical, you may be disappointed.
An American in Paris runs at the Pantages through April 9th. For more information and to purchase tickets, which start at $35, click here. After LA, the tour will continue on to other cities across the country, including Las Vegas, Tempe, Seattle, and Portland. For more information about upcoming tour dates, click here.
6 thoughts on “Theater Review: An American in Paris at the Pantages Theatre”
I saw this last night with my wife (we’re season subscribers to the Pantages). We’ve never seen the movie, and knew nothing about the show other than it had won the Oscar. I suppose it may have held tightly to the source material, butI absolutely hated it, for many of the reasons you describe (in fact, I think describing the characters as two dimensional is quite generous!).
I found Jerry completely unsympathetic, even cruel, in the scorn he directs toward Henri. Do you think Lise will be happy with him in 10 years? He’s a self-centered judgmental thug. Jerry is supposed to be scarred by the horror of war, yet he can’t even spare a thought as to what Lise and Henri and their families might have gone through during 4 years of Nazi occupation? (And don’t even get me started on where Adam gets off having an opinion on Lise & Henri’s relationship. He’s an even worse stalker than Jerry.)
But I though that the way Jerry treated Milo was even worse. What did she do to earn such contempt from Jerry? She does all she can to make his dreams come true, and he responds with insults and indignation. What a jackass! I didn’t see any motivation from Milo other than generosity and a dream to see the artistic beauty of Paris arise from the ashes of WW2. By the end of the show I found myself hoping that, somehow, the writing would be skilled enough that Milo would turn out to be the “American in Paris” of the title, and that everything leading up to then had been clever misdirection away from her as the true protagonist.
The performances were all high quality, I can’t deny. The dancing in the climactic centerpiece was well executed, though not in any way moving. However, it did offer this redemption: given that Jerry wasn’t *really* in the ballet sequence at all, but was merely Lise’s fantasy to help her find the passion to perform at her best, I choose to believe that Lise didn’t *really* return to Jerry in the final scene either, and that she was merely dancing with Jerry in his own fantasy.
Thank you for reading and commenting. I’m sorry you also didn’t enjoy this one- I agree completely that Jerry is nearly impossible to root for. I like your interpretation of the ending! I’m going with that from now on.
Yeah, if we’d done some research and knew what to expect, we might not have been as disappointed. Oh, one more positive: the sets were pretty neat, FWIW. Still, with Mormon & Hamilton coming up, and great productions of Hedwig, King & I, and Finding Neverland already in the bag, this Pantages season is the best I can remember. (I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic about the 2017-18 slate, though)
Re: 2017-2018, I saw Waitress in NY and loved it, and I’ve heard great things about The Color Purple and School of Rock.
Fair enough. Fingers are crossed…!