Reviewed by Katherine Damisch
Broadway’s version of An American in Paris is unlike almost any musical you have ever seen, gingerly coupé-ing the line between musical theatre and dance show. The action mostly carries on as a traditional musical would, with characters, dialogue, songs, and scenes with defined beginnings and endings. In this show, however, sometimes the action manifests itself in wordless ballet pieces that last for several minutes at a time. In contrast to shows like Oklahoma! which, although they also have extended moments of dance, An American in Parishas them more often, and it uses dance as a tool to advance plot and character almost equal to acting and singing.
There is one aspect, however, that should have been left in the 1940s where it belongs: the sexism. One facet of said romantic plot is that the leading man essentially harrasses the leading woman into spending time with him, following her to her workplace and continuing to harang her on the street. This inexplicably causes her to eventually fall for him, but only after a long period of her repeatedly telling him “no”. Instead of being fanciful, the situation came off as uncomfortable. Yes, this play is based off an old movie, but this one plot point could easily have been altered. There is no reason that we should still be glorifying that kind of behavior in this day and age.
Although the story is largely your typical story of “boy-meets-girl”, there remains an undertone of Paris’s trauma after World War II. At one point during the early number “I’ve Got Rhythm”, which in this version takes place in a Parisian café, the lights suddenly go out. Immediately, every character hits the deck on instinct. Even though the war is over, these people have been trained by years of air raids and invasion. In scenes throughout the play, they all try so hard to find peace after years of terror, but one by one, the secrets and the demons slip out. This is not to say that An American in Paris is a bleak post-war tale of rebuilding. It has everything one might expect from a Broadway musical: fancy choreography to Gershwin songs, humorous one-liners, a complicated romantic plot, and of course, happily ever after.
At the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $27 – $103, Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 7:30 p.m., Saturdays 2 and 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. and 7 :30 p.m., Tuesdays 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 13, 2017.