Following its recent Australian premiere in Brisbane, director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s four-time Tony Award®-winning Broadway dance-musical, An American in Paris has arrived at Arts Centre Melbourne’s State Theatre in a visually sumptuous and stunning musical feast.
Reminiscent of the Golden Age of Hollywood and based on Vincente Minnelli’s 1951 Academy Award®-winning film, which was inspired by George Gershwin’s 1928 orchestral composition, An American in Paris, it was the film that forever identified MGM as the studio for musicals.
Telling the story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl, and a motley bunch of characters, each yearning for a new beginning, Wheeldon brings the enchantment and magic of Paris to life, in the style of a traditional Broadway musical.
With a book by playwright Craig Lucas, Alan Jay Lerner’s wafer-thin movie storyline is infused with the grim realities of 1940s post-war Paris, mostly to witty and lively effect.
Featuring Christopher Austin’s glorious orchestrations, Rob Fisher has mined the Gershwin’s extensive catalogue to adapt and arrange their popular songs including I Got Rhythm, ‘S Wonderful, But Not For Me, The Man I Love, and They Can’t Take That Away From Me, in addition to the instrumental numbers, Concerto in F, Second Rhapsody and Cuban Overture.
Achieving a new level of sophistication, Bob Crowley’s set design is simply stunning. Aided by projections by 59 Productions and Natasha Katz’s lighting design, each scene transforms, seemingly before our eyes, as Parisian landmarks and interiors come to life.
Influenced by artists of the era and featuring the colour palettes of Renoir and Mondrian, and the collages by Matisse, Crowley’s costumes also take on a life of their own.
Reprising their roles from Paris, Broadway and the West End, New York City Ballet principle Robert Fairchild, and Royal Ballet First Artist Leanne Cope, return to their respective roles of Jerry and Lise, for the Australian season.
Not only exceptional dancers, Fairchild and Cope are fine singers and fine actors too. They feed the many show stopping scenes including the terrific Act Two ballet scene, An American in Paris.
Jonathan Hickey offered an engaging portrayal of Adam Hochberg as the evening’s narrator and a composer. Sam Ward, as Henri Baurel, transforms from a nervous novice to a showstopping cabaret star with a touch of whimsy in Stairway to Paradise.
Ashleigh Rubenach as the American heiress and philanthropist, Milo Davenport, captivates with a dazzling, star-making performance, acting with flair, singing and dancing with a compelling assurance.
Anne Wood and David Whitney as Madame and Monsieur Baurel respectively round out the principal cast with solid performances. Accompanied by Orchestra Victoria, under the baton of Vanessa Scammell, the phenomenally talented ensemble sing and dance up a treat, revelling in Gershwin’s iconic score.
An American in Paris
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Sunday 20 March 2022
Season continues to 23 April 2022
Following its Melbourne season, An American in Paris will play Theatre Royal Sydney from 29 April 2022; Crown Theatre Perth from 9 July 2022; and Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide from 24 January 2023. For more information, visit: www.americaninparis.com.au for details.
Images: Leanne Cope and Robert Fairchild | Ashleigh Rubenach and Robert Fairchild with Australian Ensemble | Sam Ward and Ensemble in Stairway to Paradise – all photos by Darren Thomas
Review: Rohan Shearn