Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 17, 2016

An American in Paris

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through November 20, 2016
by Bernadette Johnson

Whenever a beloved classic is re-imagined — be it from book to screen, from stage to screen or, as in this case, from screen to stage — there are always skeptics who would discourage the attempt and purists who would protest.

In the case of  “An American in Paris,” one of the most beloved MGM movie musicals, starring the suave screen legend Gene Kelly, who danced his way to stardom through the 1940s and ’50s, it was a bold undertaking.

However, the new stage adaptation of “An American in Paris” that opened on Broadway in 2015 was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, capturing four of them. Now at the Bushnell on its first national tour, we can honestly say, “’S Wonderful!”

It’s a simple story line. In post-World War II Paris, war veteran Jerry Mulligan (Garen Scribner) takes the stage as a giant Nazi banner floats to the floor and a French tricolor is raised. An aspiring artist, Jerry attempts to stake his claim to fame in the city. Within the first balletic intro, Jerry is instantly smitten by the elusive Lise Dassin (the petite Sara Esty), an aspiring prima ballerina. He also meets and befriends fellow war-veteran Adam Hochberg (Etai Benson), an aspiring concert pianist, and Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), an aspiring song/dance artist. Did I say aspiring? Yes, in the wake of war’s desperation and darkness, hope is slowly reemerging. The three new friends, self-dubbed the “Three Musketeers,” have a lot in common, including, unbeknownst to each other, love for the same woman — “boy-meets-girl” times three. Did I say simple?

Reemerging hope is depicted visually as bread lines, blackouts and drab tones give way to vivid color, light and vitality, best exemplified by numbers like the splashy “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” Henri’s Radio City fantasy sequence, and climaxing in the Mondrian-style vibrance of the concluding 14-minute piece-de-resistance that brings the production to dramatic heights and gives Scribner and Esty the spotlight in a breathtaking, flawless performance.

Vintage musical numbers (Gershwin), the proficiency, and versatility of gifted actors, who not only dance, but sing and act exceptionally well, and the professionalism of the entire company make this a must-see. I guarantee you’ll agree that “’S Marvelous!”