Originally a symphony (by George) sans lyrics that the New York Philharmonic premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1928, “An American in Paris” was filmed in 1951 (Gene Kelly/Leslie Caron), featuring lyrics set to the symphony by brother Ira. George had died 15 years before, but a more vibrant, living collaboration does not exist. (George Gershwin died at age 39. Just imagine if…well, never mind.)
The multi-award-winning stage adaptation, with a revised libretto by Craig Lucas, ran for 18months on Broadway in 2015-16, and an ambitious and thoroughly delightful revival is running now through November 24 at Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford NY.With a cast of 25 actor/singer/dancers and an eleven-piece orchestra (large for Regional venues), the emphasis at WBT is on the Gershwin brothers’ score. With such as “I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful” and “Shall We Dance,” as well as less familiar numbers (“Beginner’s Luck,” for one), who could ask for anything more?
There is more, of course: a romantic plotline that is predictable and a bit creaky, but which also includes sobering references to the Nazi occupation of Paris during the recently concluded war. American artist Jerry Mulligan (not that one, and played here by Brandon Haagenson), seeking inspiration in Paris, meets two women: lithe and lovely dancer Lise (Deanna Doyle, ideally cast) and wealthy ‘benefactress’ Milo (Lauren Sprague, imbuing the ice queen with a hint of warmth).
Ms. Doyle, reprising her Lise from the National Tour, is a joy – a saucer-eyed gamin projecting womanly stirrings in song (“The Man I Love”) and youthful innocence through dance. The “American in Paris” ballet, fully twelve minutes in length, is a showcase for Doyle, Haagenson, the talented ensemble, music director Ryan Edward Wise’s excellent musicians and director and choreographer Richard Stafford.
Have I mentioned “But Not for Me,” “Who Cares” and the self-fulfilling ditty “Fidgety Feet”? As for my mental song loop, it was “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise,” presented as Henri’s music-hall fantasy. Backed by the ensemble in Keith Nelson’s snappy costumes, it is Young’s eleven o’clock number, which he deserves. After all, Henri doesn’t get the girl.