Dance Through the 80-Year History of An American in Paris

first_imgExperience the City of Light in the Big Apple this spring! An American in Paris officially bows at the Palace Theatre on March 13, and the Gershwin-flavored production, based on the beloved 1951 movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, seems like a natural fit for Broadway. So what took so long for it to get here? Let’s embark on a s’wonderful musical journey. View Comments …But it got complicatedSong-and-dance star Gene Kelly joined Minnelli’s cause, but MGM executives didn’t understand the ambitious undertaking the duo had in mind, so the pair arranged screenings of The Red Shoes and a 1934 cartoon, La joie de vivre. Freed got the film rights to An American in Paris from George’s brother, Ira, during another friendly pool game; Ira also agreed to consult on new lyrics, according to George Lucas’s Blockbusting. Freed also convinced a super-busy Alan Jay Lerner (Royal Wedding, Brigadoon) to write the script. Lerner did so in three months, finishing the final draft the night before his wedding. Who’s ready for a challenge?Fast forward to the ’90s, when the success of another Gershwin Broadway musical, Crazy for You, prompted the estates of Ira and George Gershwin to approach producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan with a question: what about staging An American in Paris? The answer: grand skepticism. “We couldn’t get our heads around how to take this iconic film to the stage,” Oken told The New York Times. “The one thing we agreed on was that for this piece you needed a unified vision, not a choreographer doing one thing and a director another. The list of people who had those tools was very short.” Bonjour, Broadway!The new and nuanced musical opens at Broadway’s Palace Theatre, with Cope, Fairchild and more of the Paris production’s original stars reprising their roles. “It plays on two fronts,” Wheeldon told “It’s the friendship and the bonding and the love story, and also the creation of art and the struggle to create art.” And of course, there’s the music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. “You hear the music and you hear that orchestra swelling, and you can’t help but have chills,” Fairchild added. Sounds like it’s definitely worth the wait! The movie started simply…In 1949, MGM set their sights on a Gershwin musical. According to film critic Emanuel Levy, producer Arthur Freed, representing the studio, envisioned the movie revolving around “an expatriate Yank living in Paris” with a finale that featured a full-length ballet set to Gershwin’s An American in Paris. Musical director master/Liza’s dad Vincente Minnellii (Meet Me in St. Louis), a friend of the Gershwins and a Francophile, jumped on board. All they needed was a script, actors, and studio support for An American in Paris. No problem! The legend continued…Gershwin’s An American in Paris, performed by the New York Philharmonic, premiered December 13, 1928 at Carnegie Hall. The Brooklyn Eagle observed that the crowd responded “with a demonstration of enthusiasm impressively genuine in contrast to the conventional applause which new music, good and bad, ordinarily arouses.” Afterward, Gershwin was presented with a silver humidor inscribed by his friends. Among those who signed? Oh, some dudes named Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and Irving Berlin. Despite MGM’s reluctance, it’s a hitAmazingly, most of An American in Paris was filmed on MGM soundstages. The studio actually prepared audiences that the movie—which includes the now-famous 17-minute, $450,000 ballet sequence—might not be the typical fare they adore. Caron’s performance, at least according to her, consists of “a shy girl trying to get off that silly smile that was sort of pinned on her face.” It worked! The movie was a box-office and critical smash. It won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture—Kelly also took home an honorary trophy for his choreography. Paris began as a travel guideBefore it hit the big screen and Broadway, An American in Paris was George Gershwin’s self-described “rhapsodic ballet.” The great composer wanted “to portray the impressions of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city, listens to the various street noises, and absorbs the French atmosphere.” Gershwin worked on the piece in Paris (naturally), but also wrote portions of the new work in New York, Connecticut, and Vienna. Show Closed This production ended its run on Oct. 9, 2016 The dancing came laterGershwin always considered An American in Paris a ballet, and dancers eventually pirouetted into the picture. It began with a “considerably abridged setting” in Gershwin’s musical Show Girl. In 1936, Chicago choreographer and dancer Ruth Page created a two-person ballet, Americans in Paris. Fourteen years later, she revised it into Les Américains à Paris. Sadly, Gershwin did not live to see the show’s full impact. He died in 1937 at age 38. Kelly was a triple threatGene Kelly not only played the lead role of Jerry, the soldier-turned-painter who calls Paris home after World War II—he also choreographed the film and helped with casting. He had a French dancer in mind to play Lise, his elusive love interest: Leslie Caron of Les Ballets de Paris de Roland Peti. In Paris, Kelly asked 17-year-old Caron to do a screen test with him. She got the part, and three days later, she moved to America with her mom…into a Culver City motel located behind an electrical plant. Back to the Eiffel TowerMore than eight decades after Gershwin traveled to France for inspiration, the new musical adaptation of An American in Paris premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on November 22, 2014, starring Royal Ballet veteran Leanne Cope, New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchild, and Broadway mainstays Max Von Essen, Veanne Cox and Jill Paice. “Parisians are going gaga over An American in Paris,” reported NPR. “It’s not hard to see why…It’s filled with fabulous dancing and all those great Gershwin tunes.” Hey, you know where else they love great dancing and tunes? New York City! A Brit in New YorkOne guy definitely had the tools: Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. In 2002, he participated in a reading for a potential musical version with playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Three years later, he choreographed an An American in Paris ballet to Gershwin’s score for the New York City Ballet. In fall 2010, Oken asked Wheedon to direct the musical. Wheeldon declined, citing his lack of directing experience. Months later, he reconsidered. Wheeldon officially committed after passing muster with the Gershwin estate—he presented a 60-page treatment of the show developed with author Craig Lucas. Gershwin took l’ambiance seriouslyParis stoked Gershwin’s creativity. Composer and pianist Mario Braggiotti was studying there when he visited Gershwin at the Hotel Majestic. “Beside his Steinway was a group of bridge tables covered with all sizes and makes of French taxi horns,” Braggiotti recalled. Gershwin explained the scene: “I’m looking for the right horn pitch for the street scene of a ballet I’m writing. Calling it An American in Paris. Lots of fun.” Would audiences agree? Related Shows An American in Parislast_img read more