Seeing An American in Paris on screen is 'a no-brainer for any musical theatre lover'
Friday, 11 May, 2018
- by Sophie Herbert
Christopher Wheeldon’s stage production of An American in Paris premiered on Broadway in 2015. Filmed during the West End transfer at the Dominion last year, the production is being screened across the UK and in 40 countries on 16th May, with Japan and Northern America following later this year.
For those who didn’t catch it on stage before it closed in January, the story follows Jerry Mulligan, an American soldier who can’t face going home after WWII and arrives in Paris as an aspiring artist, meeting young dancer and shop girl Lise Dassin along the way. But he is not the only man vying for her affection, and another woman has her eye on Jerry.
The original 1951 film is loved by many as a wonderful example of an MGM musical in the production company’s prime. A use for George and Ira Gershwin’s beautiful songs (the same tunes pop up in Gershwin musicals – no gripe; worth seeing on stage if you get the chance are personal favourites Porgy and Bess and Crazy For You), dance played a much more central role in this film. Bolstered by the surprise success of The Red Shoes in 1948, MGM were confident that a strong dance element could have commercial appeal.
Wheeldon’s production is vibrant and uplifting; the vivid, happy numbers and the tangled love story carefully framed against the shadow of war in Paris, without sugar-coating or melodrama. You’d be hard-beat to find a classier musical. This has finesse and a gorgeous aesthetic that pervades every aspect. Each actor’s performance is refined and with a consideration to nuance and subtlety that is not always present in musical theatre – this attention to detail holds up on the big screen.
The dance is lithe and aesthetically pleasing, each shape harmoniously blending into the next. The movement technique is primarily balletic – the stance always lifted, any sharp edges smoothed and softened. The big highlight for any dance lover is the famous 17-minute ballet towards the end, the first of its kind when the film came out in 1951 and costing the studio $450,000 for that section alone. Wheeldon’s imagining of this famous ballet section translates as well on screen as it did on stage at the Dominion, with clever editing and cuts that work to highlight the best of the choreography and (Olivier Award-winning) design.
The experience of watching theatre conceived for the stage, on screen, can be jarring. There was a moment towards the start when a joke garnered a laugh from the theatre audience that wasn’t echoed by the cinema audience; an alternate fourth wall slightly ajar. For me, this was the only point this happened. The experience was as immersive as normal cinema, with fantastic sound quality and well-judged camera work adding to the slickness.