A Beautiful Gershwin Broadway Ballet

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An American in Paris

Broadway has been going to the movies for so long now that it’s almost surprising that the beloved 1951 movie-musical “An American in Paris” has only now been turned into a stage show.

The man who finally undertook the challenge of brining the Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron romance to the stage is the internationally acclaimed ballet choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. He created the dances and directs the new production, which this week earned 12 Tony Award nominations, including best new musical.

The film "An American in Paris" celebrated the City of Light, but even more so the music of George Gershwin. His songs were integrated into Alan Jay Lerner’s story about an American ex-patriate, played by Kelly, and his romance with a Parisian woman, played by Caron. The climactic dance scene was scored to the Gershwin concert work for which the picture was named. The film won seven Oscars, including an honorary one for Kelly.

Now, given Wheeldon’s presence, one might assume that this stage version is a dance-driven production. Is it a ballet on Broadway, a Broadway musical, or something in between? Wheeldon is a former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and most of the dancers come from the ballet world, too, including the leads, Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, who get to do something rarely required of ballet artists — they sing. The playwright Craig Lucas has adapted the original screenplay by Lerner.  

New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood visits this week to say if the stage version swings — and sings.