Goldie Hawn, Dame Helen Mirren and director husband Taylor Hackford were among the stars who turned out Sunday night for the triple home run, 21 gun salute debut the Gershwins’ “An American in Paris” on Broadway at the famed Palace Theater.
You read that right. “An American in Paris” was a Gershwin movie with Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Nina Foch, and Oscar Levant in 1951. It was never a movie. It always featured major ballet dancing, it never had a real story, and the songs were fungible. There were ten Gershwin numbers including “I Got Rhythm” and the ten minute “American in Paris” instrumental ballet. It was never turned into a stage show, although many of its songs were parceled out to other made up Gershwin shows like “Crazy for You” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
At last, “AIP” is a Broadway musical, completely reinvented by ballet director Christopher Wheeldon, playwright Craig Lucas, with sets and costumes by Bob Crowley and about a million investors and producers. Wheeldon brought in young, good looking ballet stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, plus Broadway stars Veanne Cox, Jill Paice, Brandon Uranowitz, and Max von Essen.
What can I say? The show soars. I’ve never been in the Palace Theater to hear and see this kind of thunderous ovation at the end of a new musical. And it’s not because this was an opening night. “AIP” has already played 40 performances in Paris at the Theatre du Chatelet, and 30 previews here. The word was always good, but who knew how good? Everyone involved is headed to the Tonys, with Wheeldon hands down taking choreography.
Wheeldon has invented new ballets from the movie’s numbers, including the title sequence that just takes your breath away. Lucas has written an actual story, amplifying the movie’s meager plot points and weaving together an enjoyable plot you actually have to follow. The sets and costumes are extraordinary that they make nostalgia seem new.
The performances are uniformly strong among the principles with obvious kudos to Fairchild and Cope, who never sang before, anywhere. Supporting nods go to Veanne Cox and Max von Essen (who’s also the son of former NYFD chief Thomas Von Essen during 9/11). Brandon Urbanowitz and Jill Paice are sensational, as well.
In many ways, this is the equivalent of the great “Anything Goes” revival of a few seasons ago with Sutton Foster. The main difference is that this is original, and it features an entire ballet within a Broadway musical.
Who else was there? Gloria Estefan, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Zachary Quinto and Mamie Gummer, Patina Miller, Tommy Tune, Michael Eisner, “Lion King” writer Irene Mecchi, the whole Gershwin family, record exec John Titta, “60 Minutes” producer Ruth Streeter, and former “Knots Landing” star Constance McCashin (she played Laura Avery) with husband, film director Sam Weisman. Contance is a psychotherapist now outside Boston. Talk about going full circle– or cul de sac!
The Tony Awards are tightening up, that’s for sure. It’s a hot year with five strong original musicals: “American in Paris,” “Finding Neverland,” “Fun Home,” “Something Rotten,” and “The Last Ship” from earlier in the season. All the scores are very strong.