By PAM HARBAUGH
Artful theater at its most elegant is ready to set your spirit soaring. It’s “An American in Paris,” on stage now at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and part of the Fairwinds Broadway in Orlando series.
And, oh my, if you are a lover of the scenic “act” of theater, of modern ballet, of symphonic music, you are in for an exquisite, unforgettable treat.
Christopher Wheeldon won the 2015 Tony Award for his mind-boggling choreography in “An American in Paris.” It’s no wonder. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet and New York City Ballet and world class choreographer, Mr. Wheeldon brings complex, fluid movement into tight compositions moving in concert with Bob Crowley’s sophisticated, artful, Tony Award winning scenic design that moves and flies and shimmers with projections. Together, they have created a musical that is high art of the modern variety, when it was fresh and exciting.
Although it’s inspired by the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the stage musical “An American Paris” is subtitled “A New Musical.” It has the immortal goodness of music by George and Ira Gershwin but a book by contemporary playwright and librettist Craig Lucas (“The Light in the Piazza” and “Prelude to a Kiss”). The theme is about love and art and how people struggle for both. Set in Paris immediately after the end of WWII, the story is about three men — a singer, an artist and a composer — vying for the heart of a ballerina and all the while seeking their own levels as artists.
Classically trained dancer Garen Scribner is Jerry Mulligan, the artist and leading man who falls hard for Lise, a beautiful young dancer. Mr. Scribner played the part in the Broadway production as well. As Lise, Sara Esty is a sweet dream of a meticulous dancer who was an alternate for the role on Broadway. Mr. Scribner and Ms. Esty will take your breath away in their graceful pas de deux in the Piet Mondrian-inspired “An American In Paris Ballet” second act climax.
Etai Benson is thoroughly engaging as Adam, the composer. Nick Spangler endears as Henri, the would-be singer who sings, in a dream sequence, “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” in which a tiny jazz nightclub transforms with breath taking spectacle into Radio City Music Hall.
Emily Ferranti makes a winning Milo Davenport, an American heiress whose fortunes help a struggling ballet company and lures the starving artist. Gayton Scott is Henri’s mother, Madame Baurel, an upper class Parisian who has more to her than meets the monocled eye.
Conductor David Andrews Rogers leads one terrific orchestra which delivers very much a symphonic quality concert. With tunes such as “I Got Rhythm,” “The Man I Love,” “But Not for Me” and “An American in Paris,” you will be hard pressed not to be singing the music all the way home.
This is a theater rhapsody all tied up with the most wonderful visuals and most exquisite modern ballet. You’ll weep for joy at the sheer artistry. You simply must see it.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “An American in Paris” runs through Sunday, Dec. 18 at Dr. Phillips Center, 445 S. Magnolia Avenue, Orlando, FL. Tickets begin at $33.75. Call 844-513-2014 or visit drphillipscenter.org.