Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

An American in Paris
The Phoenix Theatre Company
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's recent reviews of Mame, Jason Alexander at Arizona Musicfest and Once

Michael Starr and Brianna Abruzzo
Photo by Billy Hardiman
Brothers George and Ira Gershwin wrote dozens of songs that became classics of the Great American Song Book. In 1928, George wrote one of his most famous musical compositions, "An American in Paris," which was inspired by the time he spent in that city. He died in 1937 when he was only 38, but that composition and many other songs he wrote with Ira were used in the 1951 Oscar winning movie musical An American in Paris. The plot and characters in the film were expanded for a 2015 Broadway production with additional Gershwin songs and plot elements. With excellent leads, superb choreography and direction, and bright creative elements, the Phoenix Theatre Company's current production of this musical is excellent.

The stage adaptation uses the characters and main plot from the motion picture which won six Academy Awards and was directed by Vincente Minnelli. The new book by Craig Lucas fleshes out the film characters while adding in new story points. The musical takes place in France at the end of World War II and focuses on a trio of men who become friends: American soldiers Jerry Mulligan and Adam Hochberg, who have both decided to remain in Paris instead of returning to America; and Henri Baurel, a wealthy French man with a few secrets, including that he dreams of becoming a song and dance man in New York City. Jerry is a painter and Adam a composer; both are inspired by their Paris surroundings and become involved in the creation of a new ballet. However, all three men find themselves drawn to the ballet's lead dancer Lise Dassin, who has secrets of her own, which complicates the trio's friendship.

The many well-known songs in the show include "I Got Rhythm," "The Man I Love," and "But Not for Me," along with several classical pieces in addition to the title ballet, including "Concerto in F" and "Cuban Overture." Lucas' new book is fresh, funny, romantic, and familiar enough so fans of the film won't feel let down with any drastic changes to the film plot.

Director Larry Raben and choreographer DJ Gray have done wonderful work here, with Gray incorporating a wide range of dance styles, from ballet to tap and jazz, which are extremely well danced by the large cast. Raben's direction ensures the emotions of the characters transcend from the stage to the audience with well thought out performances that are realistic and refined.

Michael Starr's sharp dancing skills and beautiful singing voice shine as Jerry, the man who is determined to win over Lise. Brianna Abruzzo is superb as Lise, in a stunning performance that includes exceptional dancing (her ballet skills are flawless) and a combination of mystery, grace, sadness and passion. Nicholas Barakos is great as the cynical and reflective Adam, who serves as the narrator of the musical, and Lucas Coatney–Murrieta is bright and fun as Henri, the charming and upbeat French man who has more secrets than anyone else in the show. His performance of "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise" builds to an energetic showstopper that also includes Barakos and the ensemble.

In the supporting cast, Amanda Lea LaVergne is radiant as Milo Davenport, the wealthy American woman who sponsors the ballet and in doing so hopes she can also pull Jerry toward her, but she ends up learning that money can't always buy happiness. María Amorocho and Clay Sanderson are strong as Henri's parents, who do their best to keep up appearances while finding it's difficult to hide the secrets of their past. The entire ensemble cast are strong dancers who deliver wonderful performances.

Music director Kevin Robert White and the large orchestra do an exceptional job, with every signature Gershwin classical piece sounding sensational. Douglas Clarke's gorgeous, multi-layered scenic design uses the large legs of the Eiffel Tower as a framing device on the sides of the stage along with a section of the Tower that's always present on stage, along with silhouettes of the Paris skyline and numerous projections that help depict the various locations in the story while also oozing romance. The costumes, coordinated by CeCe Sickler, are period perfect and colorful. Jared A. Sayeg's lighting design uses deep colors and shadows to heighten the sense of romance and the liveliness of Paris. Dave Tempy's sound design is bright and clear.

With exceptional choreography, strong performances, and rich creative aspects, An American in Paris at Phoenix Theatre Company is a rewarding and moving piece that soars with a stirring and strong combination of hope and romance.

An American in Paris runs through March 12, 2023, at The Phoenix Theatre Company, 1825 N Central Avenue, Phoenix AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-254-2151.

Director: Larry Raben Choreographer: DJ Gray
Musical Director: Kevin Robert White
Scenic Designer: Douglas Clarke
Lighting Designer: Jared A. Sayeg
Costume Coordinator: CeCe Sickler
Sound Designer: Dave Temby
Properties Master: Sarah Harris
Dialect Coach: Pasha Yamotahari
Director of Production: Karla Frederick
Company Manager/Associate Production Manager: Tyler Welden
Stage Manager: Samantha Monson*
Asst. Stage Manager: Michelle Elias*
Asst. Stage Manager: Katherine Roll Lang*

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Lise Dassin: Brianna Abruzzo*
Madame Baurel: María Amorocho*
Adam Hochberg: Nicholas Barakos
Ensemble: Geoff Belliston
Henri Baurel: Lucas Coatney–Murrieta*
Dance Ensemble: Bailee Cudmore
Dance Ensemble: Kylie Victoria Edwards*
Dance Ensemble: Albert Johnston
Dance Ensemble/Dance Captain: Casey Lamont
As Milo Davenport: Amanda Lea LaVergne*
Dance Ensemble: Derek Luscutoff*
Dance Ensemble: Aidan Lutton
Dance Ensemble: Darren McArthur*
Ensemble: Katie McFadzen
Dance Ensemble: Carmiña Monserrat
Dance Ensemble: Sarah Morgan
Dance Ensemble: Trevor Rex
Ensemble: Grace Rogers
Monsieur Baurel, Ensemble: Clay Sanderson*
Dance Ensemble: Taylor Stanger*
Jerry Mulligan: Michael Starr*
Dance Ensemble: Sarah Wiechman
Swings: Dallyn Brunck, Kayden Oliver, Amber Skaggs, Xingyu Wang

*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.