An American in Paris at the Saenger Theatre, Jan. 30–Feb. 4
[I had seen An American in Paris on Broadway in March 2016; that production comes to the Saenger later this month. Below is my review, slightly edited, that ran in April of that year.]
With its classic story and gorgeous Gershwin songs, it’s hard not to like the stage version of An American in Paris. But with memories of Gene Kelly and the Oscar-winning movie hard to forget, it’s difficult to love, too.
Craig Lucas’ book, “Inspired by the Motion Picture” (curiously, Alan Jay Lerner, who won an Oscar for his screenplay, is not acknowledged in the Playbill), is workable; if its attempts to add some depth to the narrative by recognizing sacrifices made during World War II are admirable, it lacks the film’s fizzy spirit.
Natasha Katz’s lighting, at times Impressionistic, at others abstract, and Bob Crowley’s set which morphs from one scene to the next, aided by 59 Productions’ sleek projections, are beautiful to look at; both deservedly won Tony Awards.
Acclaimed dancer/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon’s direction brings out the show’s charm but offers no surprises and delivers too few moments that touch the heart. His dances, though, are lovely and advance the narrative; the American in Paris number, especially the lead characters’ duet, particularly stands out as a fabulous creative work unto itself.
Those lead characters, Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin, were played by Robert Fairchild and Sara Esty at the performance I saw. That both are wonderful dancers is not surprising; he’s since returned to NYC Ballet as a principal dancer, she is a former soloist with the Miami City Ballet. He radiated decency and an elegant playfulness; she a poised sweetness and wary gracefulness.
But, as I heard an audience member saying, “He’s good but no Gene Kelly.” And she’s not quite Leslie Caron. Brandon Uranowitz is marvelously astringent in the Oscar Levant role while Jill Paice, in the Nina Foch role, a wealthy American who has designs on Jerry, may be starchy and soigne but avoids coming off as mean or evil, a smart move. Old-fashioned, pure entertainment, An American in Paris is the kind of show you can bring your mother to. But be aware–my Mom felt the same way about it as I did.
[Allison Walsh, who played Lise Dassin on Broadway, and McGee Maddox now appear in the lead roles. Matthew Scott, who played Adam Hochberg (the Oscar Levant role) on Broadway, and Kirsten Scott, who are married, now have the featured roles.]
A variety of entertainments will play here before the biggest entertainment of all, Mardi Gras, makes everyone a performer. Some of these upcoming works I’m familiar with, some are new to me, and some are kinda in-between. As we get ready for parades to roll, check out some of the offerings below: — In honor of New Orleans’ Tricentennial, New Orleans Opera will present Tabasco, George Whitefield Chadwick’s comic opera from 1894 at Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré.
Originally performed in 1894, R. A. Barnet’s libretto tells the tale of a Middle Eastern pasha who craves spicy food. Enraged by the blandness of the fare provided by his royal kitchen, the pasha threatens to chop off the head of his French chef (actually a masquerading Irishman). The chef frantically searches the city for seasonings and, well, you’ll have to see the opera to find out what ensues.
In 2012, conductor Paul Mauffray discovered the opera’s missing libretto along with other, related historical documents. With great dedication, he reconstructed the score based on the surviving but incomplete sheet music. In 2014, I saw a delightful concert version of Tabasco that Mauffray conducted and I’m now looking forward to the fully staged version which runs January 25-28.
–Inspired by the famed 1956 recording session that brought together rock n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and, the wild man of the group, Jerry Lee Lewis for the first and only time, Million Dollar Quartet continues at Rivertown Theaters through January 28.
As I wrote after seeing the touring Broadway production at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in 2013, “Even if it was only talented actors playing them, it was pretty amazing to see the four icons together. What a day that must’ve been!
“Though enjoyable, M$Q was more tell than show and fairly drama-free until various secrets came spilling out towards the end. Still, the point of M$Q is the music and what with Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, Hound Dog, and 18 other classics, it didn’t disappoint. While my Yankee ears certainly enjoyed these numbers, they’re not quite in my DNA.
The rest of the audience, however, ate it up.”
–From January 19 until February 4, Slidell Little Theater conjures up the Tony Award-winning Peter and the Starcatcher. When I saw it on Broadway in 2012, I found the first act mostly tedious exposition, but the second act was, as I wrote, “a different, magical show!
“Adapted by Rick Elice from Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s novel, Peter and the Starcatcher provides the backstory for Peter Pan, a prequel if you will. There’s a Lord, his daughter, her nanny, some nasty sea captains and their henchmen, a preening villain by the name of Black Stache, and an orphan boy with no name, called just ‘Boy.’
“Whereas the first act is dark and set amidst dreary workhouses and the dank holds of ships, the second act is full of light, above and below water, as a shipwreck tosses this patchwork krewe onto an island filled with ravenous alligators and other memorable creatures.
“Whereas during the first act I felt like I was being spoon-fed the story, as though told to eat my vegetables cause ‘they’re good for you’, Act Two is a true and bon-bon filled delight as the various parts of the story organically click into place to produce a lump-in-your throat ending. And how can you not love something that opens with a chorus of ukulele strumming mermaids?!”
Can’t wait to see if the Slidellians might be able to make the first act as enchanting as the second.
–Goat in the Road has brought back Foreign to Myself, an original show about military Veterans and the difficulty of coming home during America’s period of endless war. Extensively researched, this production utilizes humor, historic accounts, personal interviews, scientific research, and immersive sound design to tell the story of Alex, a female Marine returning home after three tours of duty in Iraq.
I missed Foreign to Myself last May so am pleased I’ll be able to catch it this time. There are three more performances, January 19, 20 and 21 at 8 pm, at UNO’s Robert E. Nims Theatre. And tickets to all shows are free.
–Inspired by one of the first black women to join the New Orleans Police Department in the 1970s, Black & Blue recounts the life and career of Chief Yvonne Bechet. Written by Ariadne Blayde and directed by Troy R. Poplous, this drama is produced by the Center for Restorative Approaches and stars the marvelous Carol Sutton, whose recent performances in Camino Real and Our Town were highlights of their respective seasons.
Playing until January 28 at Dillard University’s Cook Theater, after each performance of Black & Blue audiences can participate in a dialogue on police-community relations facilitated by the Center for Restorative Approaches. I’m sure it will be a thought-provoking discussion.
–Hair & Other Stories, the latest dance-theater piece from the New York based dance company Urban Bush Women, also sounds thought-provoking. Stemming from personal narratives that derive from conversations in African-American communities, Hair & Other Stories explores perceptions of body image, race, gender identity, economic inequities and what constitutes freedom, liberation and release in our everyday struggles.
The Contemporary Arts Center and Junebug Productions will present this Louisiana premiere at the CAC January 24-28. The Urban Bush Women’s two-week engagement here will also feature workshops, community events and, of course, parties. Complete details can be found at www.cacno.org.
–Though I don’t know much about Tango Fire, a Broadway-style show with 5 world-champion tango couples and a quartet of musicians straight from Buenos Aires, I’m a sucker for all things tango so this presentation by the New Orleans Ballet Association on Saturday, January 27, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater tempts me to forgo the Krewe du Vieux Carre parade that evening.
With its promises of slit skirts, seamed stockings and stunningly tailored suits; the infectious music of tango masters Astor Piazzolla, Osvaldo Pugliese and Carlos Gardel; and lighting-fast, precise footwork that will “ignite the stage,” I just might give in to Tango Fire’s temptation.
–I wish I could give in to the temptation of Simply the Best: The Tina Turner Story at the Joy Theater debuting on January 19 but I’ll be out of town. Starring local vocalist and Ambie award-winner Anaïs St. John, this tribute event will feature a seven-piece band, backup singers and dancers to tell Turner’s dramatic story and will include performances of more than 15 of the Queen of Rock’n’Roll’s greatest hits, including What’s Love Got to Do with It, Private Dancer, and Proud Mary.
Happy Mardi Gras!