“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.