I got rhythm, I got music, I got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
I’ve got daisies in green pastures
I’ve got my man
Who could ask for anything more?
—from “I Got Rhythm” by Ira Gershwin (1896–1983) and George Gershwin (1898–1937), featured in their 1930 Broadway musical Girl Crazy
Based on the 1951 movie An American in Paris , directed by Vincente Minnelli (1903–1986), the musical of the same name is bringing smiles to the faces of audiences at Broadway’s Palace Theatre. The show does include “I Got Rhythm,” which is also early on in the film. This newly created musical is very different from the movie. The film, a star vehicle for the dancing Gene Kelly, must have been for the film’s contemporary audiences, still adjusting the aftermath of the Second World War, an uplifting and fun night out.
The musical was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, an Englishman who was trained in classical ballet. He had been a star dancer for New York City Ballet in the 1990s. Just as with the movie, the musical’s main character is a former G.I. named Jerry Mulligan. He is played by today’s leading male dancer at the New York City Ballet, Robert Fairchild.
The very handsome and very charming Mr. Fairchild has for his leading lady Leanne Cope, a corps de ballet dancer at London’s Royal Ballet. In the film version the role of Lise was taken on by Leslie Caron, to whom Miss Cope bears more than a passing resemblance. Miss Caron had been a ballet dancer, performing with Roland Petit’s Ballets des Champs-Élysées, where she was seen by Mr. Kelly and cast as the film’s female lead. This production got its start in the City of Light, where it was developed and premiered.
Because of the strong ballet background on the part of the director and his two stars, it should come as no surprise that ballet is at the heart of this musical. At times I forgot I was in a Broadway theater but rather at a Lincoln Center ballet performance. That is fine with me. It is beautifully done; even the set pieces and props are whisked on and off stage with graceful ballet moves that seem appropriate.
George Gershwin’s 1928 tone poem gives the movie and this musical version its title, while featuring some of the wonderful, jazzy songs by himself or his brother. Some are familiar, others not; but the combination of wonderful music and superb dancing put me in a happy mood for the entire evening.
An American in Paris received 12 nominations in 11 categories for Tony Awards, including Best Musical; it was honored with three wins. Mr. Fairchild was nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Musical; Leanne Cope was nominated for Best Lead Actress in a Musical; Max von Essen and Brandon Uranowitz were nominated for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical; Craig Lucas was nominated for Best Book of a Musical; Bob Crowley, Benjamin Pearcy, and Leo Warner of 59 Productions won for Best Scenic Design of a Musical; Bob Crowley was nominated for Best Costume Design of a Musical; Natasha Katz was nominated for Best Lighting Design of a Musical; Christopher Wheeldon was nominated for Best Direction of a Musical; Christopher Wheeldon won for Best Choreography; Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, Bill Elliott won for Best Orchestrations.
The Palace Theatre, one of the few Broadway theater’s with a Broadway address, opened in 1913; its stature stoked the dreams of many performers, and gave rise to the phrase, “Playing the Palace.” As the pre-eminent vaudeville theatre in the United States the Palace presented such household names as Ethel Barrymore, Harry Houdini, Will Rogers, Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Jerry Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Bette Midler, Shirley MacLaine and Diana Ross.
Sweet Charity, starring Gwen Verdon, opened at the Palace after the Nederlanders turned it into a legitimate theatre in 1965. Lauren Bacall starred in Applause and Woman of the Year here; Richard Kiley made his mark in Man of La Mancha; and George Hearn wowed audiences in La Cage aux Folles. Disney’s Beauty and the Beast played the Palace in 1994. The Palace seats 1,740; it is one of nine Broadway theaters owned by the Nederlander Organization.
The rainbow banner topping the cover of Playbill in June pays tribute to Gay Pride Month. This issue of Playbill featured nine profiles—whose pages have a rainbow banner too—of members of the GLBT community who have made a lasting contribution to New York’s theater scene.