An American in Paris arrives in Philadelphia

By Debra Danese for the Dance Journal

The 2016-17 Broadway Philadelphia season kicked off Tuesday night with the lavish first national tour of An American in Paris. Philadelphia theater goers were transported to post –war Paris, circa 1945, when the production took the stage at The Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music. Inspired by the academy award winning MGM motion picture, An American in Paris follows an American solider and a French girl, both longing for a new beginning in the aftermath of war.

An American in Paris is a love story set to the music of George and Ira Gershwin. For dance enthusiasts, it is feast for the eyes. The opening sequence is wordless and conveys to the audience the importance dance will have in the story telling. Renowned choreographer Christopher Wheeldon utilizes every nuance of Gershwin’s score; sometimes with intricate partnering and other times with just the flick of the wrists. Wheeldon, who won the 2015 Tony award for Best Choreography for the production, incorporates Broadway jazz, tap, and ballet, showcasing a technically versatile cast.

Garen Scribner exudes hopeful optimism with an easy smile as American soldier, Jerry Mulligan. His love interest, Lise Dassin, played by Sara Esty, is subdued and resigned to her post war fate. Their romance is largely depicted through dance. Scribner and Esty dance together with innocence and tenderness making their love story believable. Both are former soloists with major ballet companies and it is during their duets that we see just how accomplished they are.

Norristown native Colby Q. Lindeman is a “Swing” for six of the male roles in the current touring production. He comes full circle to the Academy of Music having last been onstage at his 2001 graduation from Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). He was a dance major who toured locally with CAPA’s dance company. “That was my first experience with touring.” Lindeman said in a recent interview. He went on to earn a degree at Oklahoma City University where his focused shifted from concert dance to musical theatre dance. When asked about working with acclaimed choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, Lindeman responded, “Christopher was very clear on his vision of the production. He knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it from the cast. He treated us with great respect which made us want to work even harder for him.”

Production numbers such as “I Got Rhythm” and “Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture” are highlights of Act I. However, it is in Act II that we truly see how well the production is designed. Jerry and Company maneuver on and off chairs in the up-tempo “Fidgety Feet.” The elaborate “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” is a visual spectacle with stunning set and costume design by Bob Crowley. Scenes transition seamlessly with the ensemble dancing props and set pieces on and off stage. The show culminates with the 13 minute ballet, “An American in Paris,” highlighting what Wheeldon does best.

An American in Paris plays at the Academy of Music through November 27, 2016.

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