By Bob Evans
The old 1950’s movie An American in Paris recently became a Broadway hit of the same name, only without the classic performances of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, but the musical theater version of the show dazzles, anyway, with gorgeous costumes, intricate staging, and beautiful ballet moves amidst a post-WWII Paris backdrop.
The show, weak on story but strong on dance opened to a small crowd at Starlight, most probably due to July heat. By showtime, the sun was behind the trees to the west and the amphitheater cooled down nicely with a warm breeze throughout the show. One of the biggest problems with Starlight is the summer heat, but that will be lesser by next year after giant fans are installed to keep air moving in the theater space. This years addition of large screens to project closeup views of central characters definitely enhances the overall Starlight experience.
“An American in Paris” tells the story of a soldier, lost after the end of WWII and wanting to remain in Paris to pursue his art and live amongst Parisian society that was devastated by the war and the invasion of Nazi politics. The story topically deals with a young Jewish girl, hidden from Nazis and the pursuit of her dream to dance in a Paris ballet. Naturally, a love triangle emerges and tears the dancer between loyalty, duty, and love.
The basis of the story is sound, but the dialogue limits the character development and no character is allowed to stand out. “An American in Paris” relies too heavily on dance to tell the story and forgot to build the characters and the chemistry needed to drive the story. Overall, the story is a sleeper. The dance numbers wake the audience from intermittent naps, but that still does not carry the story.
Upon exit, the audience could be heard talking about the costumes and dances. Nothing was heard of the story or the acting. It’s all about dance. And, that sums up the show. It’s a dance show. What makes the show worthwhile is the beautiful and melodic score by the Gershwin brothers, George and Ira. “I Got Rhythm”, “But Not for Me,” “Stairway to Paradise,” “An American in Paris” definitely add to the show’s appeal.
The singing, dancing, and acting of the central characters holds the pieces together. Sadly, there is not a lot of drama or story to allow the actors to develop deep characters or allow for character growth.
Those who love the movie and love a dance show will delight in “An American in Paris.” Those not so keen on dance will struggle to pull the pieces of the story together. The weakness lies in that the crux of the story comes apparent slowly and mostly in the second act. By then, interest is lost. Act I contains mystery on background and characters, but it’s not strong enough to carry through to the second act.
Give Starlight lots of credit in booking current national tours–especially this season. Starlight has booked name shows and not small regional productions, giving the theater a better look and appeal that had dimmed over the last few decades. As theater changed, Starlight needed to adapt. The current season shows the impact of that decision to make positive steps toward filling the seats, keeping musical theatre alive in Kansas City, and growing the Arts locally.
Attendees, pay attention to the costumes and the dance. They are strengths of the show. The score and the vocals are exquisite. Story is marginal, at best. Still, the show entertains and budding ballerinas would love the dance and choreography.
“An American in Paris” continues though Sunday at Starlight Theatre. Tickets can be purchased through the Starlight website.
Tags: Starlight Theatre, “An American in Paris”, Kansas City, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment