An American in Paris at Pittsburgh CLO | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

An American in Paris at Pittsburgh CLO

’S all wonderful enough

Nick Spangler and the An American in Paris touring company
Nick Spangler and the An American in Paris touring company

There are two types of Gene Kelly fans: Team Singin’ in the Rain, and Team An American in Paris. I’ve always run with the former, finding the latter to be an overly cute soufflé of a movie wrapped around a playlist of pop tunes by the Gershwin boyz — sort of a proto-Mamma Mia! — enriched by the peerless imagination and grace of its choreographer/star. 

On stage, though, a touring version of An American in Paris, in town courtesy of PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh CLO, is a much more embraceable montage of music and movement, a cross between a Broadway musical and a quotidian ballet. And there’s even some extra Ira and George to enjoy: Who could ask for anything more than “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “But Not For Me” and “The Man I Love”? ’S all wonderful enough.

Set in Paris, just after World War II, the story revolves around Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an American ex-GI painter in love with Lise (Sara Esty), a beautiful young French ballerina committed to Henri (Nick Spangler), whose family saved her during the Occupation. They work it out through song and dance, including the titular ballet — merely imagined, by Jerry, in the film, but real in the stage musical.

This iteration of American in Paris matters for its dance, and director Christopher Wheeldon’s Tony-winning choreography is fluid and occasionally spectacular, handsomely performed by the company’s capable cast. The four leads (including a charming Etai Benson as a sardonic lovesick composer/pianist with a gammy leg) all have standout moments, although Maddox, a ballet dancer by training, lacks Kelly’s taut muscularity — hardly a sin, but hard not to notice — and even his predecessor’s pleasant voice.

Lush video backdrops enhance the show’s gorgeous design, adding depth to the stage, and Craig Lucas’ book goes a little meta when Henri, who secretly sings in a café (his élite family would not approve), imagines a dazzling version of his rather clumsy cabaret act. The Gershwin tunes still got it, and the thin story is a little darker here than the movie’s, if not for long. More than ever, it’s the fidgety feet that make this truffle so sweet. 

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