In 1928, George Gershwin composed “An American in Paris,” inspired by the time he had spent there. “My purpose here is to portray the impression of an American visitor in Paris as he strolls about the city and listens to various street noises and absorbs the French atmosphere,” Gershwin said in the program notes from its premiere. Much like its composer, “An American in Paris” was ahead of its time and received a moderately positive reception by the classical elite. It has since become a supremely popular and beloved composition in the classical repertoire.
The song inspired the 1951 movie, An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron and directed by Vincente Minnelli. As one of the most classic movie musicals of the Golden Age (1930’s to 1950’s) it was considered to be a massive undertaking and a triumph, especially for Gene Kelly’s innovative and stunning ballet, for which he received an honorary Academy Award. So it makes sense that, in this day and age, when Hollywood is providing so much Broadway fare, a stage musical would be a logical next step.
But turning a movie screenplay into a stage musical is not simple. They are two different mediums and play by their own storytelling rules. So while the title and the characters are the same, the stage version of An American in Paris is very different. It delves more deeply into the post-World War II aspect of the story, which I believe gives the story and its characters more three-dimensionality. All of these people lived through or fought in the war. That leaves a mark and that mark is felt in Craig Lucas’ book. Contrast that with the glorious music of George Gershwin and the sublimely witty and heartfelt lyrics of his brother Ira, and you have the makings for a moving, funny and deeply human story.
The Broadway musical premiered in 2015 and featured the direction and choreography of Christopher Wheeldon of New York City Ballet. He populated his cast with ballet stars such as Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope and leaned heavily, and beautifully I might add, into the ballet vernacular.
Now, in this regional premiere, my talented collaborators and I have attempted to bring the movie’s MGM quality back into the new Broadway version. As a kid who cut his teeth watching Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse, I hoped to bring a little more of that to the stage version.
So from the original song composed in 1928, to 1951, to 2015 and now to the 2018 regional premiere here at Ogunquit Playhouse, An American in Paris continues to not only be a massive creative undertaking, but one that, we hope, ultimately delights audiences.