Regional Reviews: Phoenix
An American in Paris
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 CoatneyMurrieta 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 phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151.
Director: Larry Raben
Choreographer: DJ Gray
Cast (in alphabetical order):
*Members of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors & stage managers in the U.S.