An American in Paris, a new musical that pays tribute to the 1951 Gene Kelly film, received 12 Drama Desk Award nominations, the most of any show currently on Broadway. Something Rotten!, even with all its buzz as a possible Tony spoiler, only took in nine (far less than off-Broadway’s Hamilton).
As a nod to An American in Paris’ nominations, here are my reasons Paris is on fire:
1. Christopher Wheeldon. The UK-based ballet choreographer is one of the most sought after and acclaimed names in dance, and An American in Paris is his debut as a Broadway director. His dance sensibilities show: even when dance sequences end, the actors, the set, and the story remain constantly in motion.
2. Christopher Wheeldon. The director gets two nods because he also serves as the show’s brilliant choreographer. The show opens with a five-minute dance sequence of our American leading man catching sight of a gorgeous Parisian woman and chasing her through the streets of Paris. Utterly captivating and fabulous. The real treat comes in Act II, during Wheeldon’s 13-minute abstract ballet that reinterprets Gershwin’s original “An American in Paris” symphony.
3. George and Ira Gershwin. Speaking of Gershwin’s symphony—one of the main draws of this show is the beautiful score from the 1951 movie. All the good stuff is here: “I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful,” “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” and much more. Plus, my favorites, “Concerto in F,” and “An American in Paris” are drawn upon several times in the show to create a more cohesive musical through line.
4. Robert Fairchild. No show is complete without a leading man, and boy does Fairchild lead. When this New York Ballet principle is onstage, you cannot take your eyes off him. And he’s not just a dancer. This gorgeous specimen can sing and act. My lord, I think Paris isn’t the only thing burning.
5. Leanne Cope. Speaking of triple threats, meet Leanne Cope of the Royal Ballet. Cope plays Lise, the object of American Jerry Mulligan’s affection (along with two others). With her darling voice, soft lines, and convincing presence, Lise has never been more beautiful and desirable. No wonder three men are after her heart.
6. Veanne Cox. Every show needs a dose of comedy, and here Cox, as the protective, overbearing Madame Baurel is given some of the funniest lines in the book, and she delivers them with impeccable timing.
7. The Book. Too often with musicals, the score and lyrics are praised, but the book is trashed. Here, with a book by Craig Lucas, we get a story that actually improves upon the thin narrative from the 1951 film. For one, the story is pushed back to right after the liberation of France, adding an element of immediacy to the story. Characters are also fleshed out. For instance, we understand why Lise is so intent on marrying Henri.
8. Bob Crowley. Like the dancers in this show, the set by Bob Crowley is constantly in motion. It’s as if we’re watching Parisians as they rebuild their city. Iconic elements make us feel like we’re in Paris, but it’s never as literal as an Eiffel Tower thrust in our face. That takes skill.
9. Bob Crowley. Why the double mention? He brings us the wonderful costumes. Something interesting happens on stage with the costuming—as Parisians become more hopeful about the city they live in (and about their lives) we see the colors of their clothes become more rich and vibrant. Fashion is powerful.
10. Lighting. An American in Paris shares the same lighting designer as another show set in Paris, Gigi, playing just up the street. Here Natasha Katz gives us lots of low lighting (in the beginning of Act I, it’s almost as if we’re watching a black and white movie), until eventually the stage is awash in shades of blue. Like Crowley’s costumes, color is telling a story.
11. Projections. In this version of An American in Paris, Jerry Mulligan is a GI-turned-aspiring-painter. With sketch pad always in hand Jerry strolls through Paris sketching the city and his sketches come alive for us on stage through a series of beautiful projections. A trick like this could easily distract, but not here.
12. That special IT factor. There’s something about this show that I can’t quite put my finger on. For reasons beyond words, I walked away from this show feeling like I’d just seen something I’ll never see ever again. And it’s a feeling I think many critics have attempted to describe in their reviews and the reason An American in Paris is looking like the dark horse in the Tony race. Don’t count out this show. There’s something magical here, but you’ll have to see it to know what I mean.