French debut for ‘An American in Paris’ musical
A stage version of the Oscar-winning 1951 musical ‘An American in Paris’ makes its world premiere in the French capital on 22 November, starring New York City Ballet’s Robert Fairchild and the Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope. Duration: 01:05
French debut for 'An American in Paris' musical
Paris (AFP) – The stage version of cult 1951 musical “An American in Paris” will this week make its world premiere in the City of Love where it is set, before hitting Broadway next year.
More than 60 years after actor and dancer Gene Kelly dazzled onscreen as an American soldier trying to woo a French girl in the aftermath of war, producers from both countries have united to bring a new version of the romantic tale to theatres.
Both the film and the play were inspired by American composer George Gershwin’s symphonic poem of the same name, which he wrote in 1928, meant to convey the sounds and atmosphere of Paris.
Jean-Luc Choplin, the director of Paris’s Chatelet Theatre, said he approached the Gershwin estate three years ago to obtain the rights to George and his lyricist brother Ira’s music with an eye to a stage production.
“They told me that two American producers wanted to do the same and they matched us up,” he told AFP.
Broadway producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan raised some 10 million euros ($13 million) to put on “An American in Paris”. If the show seduces audiences on Broadway, it could run for years, earning royalties for the Parisian theatre.
After six weeks of rehearsals in New York, the entire team of 70 people, including 34 singers and dancers, migrated to Paris in early November ahead of the show’s opening on the 22nd.
With a series of American-style show previews due this week, the 150-year-old Parisian theatre is a hive of activity.
“Well done… good, good, good!” says English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, leaping onto stage to adjust some decor as a dancer practices his moves.
“Rehearsals start at 9.30am till 11.30 at night. But I don’t mind, I’m like a child at Christmas!”
– A ‘new musical’ –
The 41-year-old, directing his first musical, told AFP that while growing up, Gene Kelly was a big inspiration to him.
“My favourite movie was “Singin’ in the Rain”, but I loved “An American in Paris” because of the ballet.”
However none of those involved in the musical wanted to directly transfer the 1951 film to stage.
“We wanted to take the movie as inspiration for a new musical. Even though the music is not new, the way that we’ve written our story and make the music fit within the structure of our story is what makes it new,” said Wheeldon.
With the movie as a “launching point”, the original Gershwin score, a big dose of Gene Kelly inspiration and brand new choregraphy and scenography, “An American in Paris” hopes to get a whole new generation of audiences tapping along.
“Gene Kelly embodied that kind of style, that jazz style and the tap… and the sort of combination of those with ballet and with my more contemporary vision of ballet kind of blends lots of ingredients in making a new cake.”
Wheeldon says the stage musical uses a lot more orchestra music than the film, but that the orchestra would have to be trimmed down for Broadway, where the musicians’ pit is much smaller.
Robert Fairchild, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet will take on the role of Jerry, a former soldier trying to make it as a painter in post-war Paris.
His Parisian love interest Lise will be played by Leanne Cope of the London Royal Ballet.
Wheeldon said he wanted to evoke a sense of “the city after the war, after the occupation, rebuilding. I wanted it to feel like Paris… we spent a lot of time in making the neighbourhood.”
“An American in Paris” will run from November 22 to January 4 at the Chatelet Theatre and then at New York’s Palace Theatre from March 13, 2015.