The national tour of “An American in Paris,” now playing at downtown Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater, is dazzling.
Stunning dancing coupled with inventive choreography, costumes and sets, all set to gorgeous arrangements of Gershwin songs: This is a beautiful show. The stage adaptation of the beloved Gene Kelly 1951 movie plays well under the star field of our new downtown theater.
Craig Lucas’ book lovingly enriches the movie’s thin plot, while Rob Fisher’s score and arrangements elegantly showcase Gershwin classics. Bob Crowley’s set (Tony-winning) and costumes are not just colorful but also beautifully creative in the way they forward the story.
Of course Christopher Wheeldon’s direction and genius Tony Award-winning choreography deserve their own paragraph. The show’s movement language richly conveys the wonder of what it means to be young and newly alive after the darkness of World War II.
The story turns on the fortunes of Jerry Mulligan, an aspiring artist who deals with his war guilt by expatriating himself as an aspiring artist in the City of Lights. He’s befriended by the sardonic aspiring composer Adam Hochberg (Stephen Brower) and the earnest aspiring singer Henri Baurel (Nick Spangler), the heir of an influential Paris family.
The plot, thin as it is, thickens as the trio all secretly — or in Jerry’s case, brashly — fall in love with the graceful Lise. She’s a shopgirl and aspiring dancer whom Adam encourages to audition for the ballet.
Adam has invited Jerry to the ballet to sketch the dancers, and the artist catches the attention of the social-climbing American heiress Milo Davenport (Emily Ferranti), who offers to fund a ballet if Adam and Jerry are hired to compose and design the show.
McGee Maddox is terrific as the American ex-GI Jerry Mulligan. (Utah native Robert Fairchild earned a 2015 Tony nomination for originating the role and is now finishing his run as a New York City principal dancer.) Maddox’s dancing is so gracefully conversational that it helps theatergoers mostly overlook the one-note tones of his brash American character.
Maddox exudes roadhouse-sized chemistry with Sara Esty’s Lise Dassin, the enigmatic French ingenue whom everyone in the theater is simultaneously falling in love with. I could watch those two dancing together all month.
Dassin’s dancing appears effortlessly graceful, her acting nuanced. Simply: She’s mesmerizing. (The former Miami City Ballet dancer is understudied by her twin sister, Leigh-Ann.)
Salt Lake dance fans should watch for the ensemble’s Tom Mattingly, a former Ballet West principal dancer. He’s finishing his performing career with this Salt Lake City run, where he’s onstage for most of the show as a French soldier, ballet dancer, bar patron, butler and tap dancer.
Small quibbles: Brower’s narrator turns aren’t as nuanced as needed to propel the story forward, and Ferranti’s delivery allows her lyrics to be swallowed by the sound mix. And Jerry’s polo shirts don’t always do the character any favors.
Yet this is such a thoughtfully original show that it gives fresh energy to the genre of screen-to-stage adaptations, which can so often be disappointing. “Life is not like your American movies!” Lise shouts at Jerry, but this dance-rich show makes beautiful theater out of that disconnect.
An American in Paris
Where • Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City
When • Reviewed Tuesday; continues through Oct. 22: Wednesday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 6:30 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
Tickets • $45-$100, available at artsaltlake.org or the Eccles Theater box office.
Running time • 2 1/2 hours, including intermission.