REVIEW: An American in Paris - Broadway Cast
This past Sunday, the new stage version of the 1951 film An American in Paris picked up four Tony Awards including Best Choreography, Best Set Design of a Musical, and Best Lighting Design of a Musical. In a show that is so heavily defined by dance and the visual, how does this work stack up in the audio department? The newly released cast recording of An American in Paris offers a surprisingly engaging listen and without the stage pictures to compete with, the rich score, made up of hits by George and Ira Gershwin, really dazzles. From the opening excerpt from "Concerto in F" to hits like "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," the album often plays like a "Best of the Gershwins." This is never a bad thing (despite the fact that at times the show feels like it's treading a bit too closely in the waters of Crazy For You, especially with its "found object" version of "I Got Rhythm"), but the success of the cast album really rests on the shoulders of one individual. No, it's not director Christopher Wheeldon, leading man Robert Fairchild, or even George Gershwin. You have to look way down in the cast of credits to see the name Rob Fisher who adapted, arranged, and supervised the score and happily got to write the album's liner notes.
Fisher isn't a household name, but musical theater fans will recognize him as the longtime director of the Encores! series at New York City Center, where he conducted and supervised the reconstruction of numerous classic musical theater scores. Under Fisher's expert hand, the Gershwin musical catalog gets first-rate treatment. This cast album features an expanded 27-member orchestra (up from the theater's 19-person pit) that provides the show's instrumental sections ("Concerto in F," "Second Prelude" and the show's eponymous ballet) with a richness that makes for a great listening experience. Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, and Bill Elliott snagged the show's fourth Tony Award for their thoughtful orchestrations.
Moving from the largely instrumental score to the various vocal numbers, the cast with one exception handles their chores adeptly. Snatched away from the New York City Ballet for this show, newly minted leading man Robert Fairchild plays Jerry (originally inhabited on screen by Gene Kelly) and has a pleasant, smooth tenor voice which he shows off in "I've Got Beginner's Luck" and "Fidgety Feet." His male co-stars, Brandon Uranowitz and Max von Essen, are also delights to listen to, especially von Essen who indulges in a plummy French accent for his hilarious turn as the musically challenged Henri. The three men harmonize well on "'S Wonderful" and later again on the plaintive "They Can't Take That Away From Me."
There aren't many star moments for women on this album. Broadway belter Jill Paice exhibits her gorgeous voice on "Shall We Dance?" and "But Not For Me," leaving one wishing that her character had more to sing. Which leaves Leanne Cope who plays Lise, Jerry's love interest. Also on furlough from the New York City Ballet to star in this show, Cope is lovely on stage. She's an excellent dancer and brings a tender, waif-like sensibility to her character. Singing, however, isn't Cope's strong suit and her voice is thin and hesitant (evoking a young Twiggy). She only gets one significant solo, "The Man I Love," which was probably a smart move by the creators, and while not unpleasant, this version won't be supplanting any better known interpretations of the song any time soon.
While the cast recording of An American in Paris isn't a masterpiece—one can find multiple recordings of the Gershwins' music that are equally strong—Rob Fisher and his team of orchestrators, arrangers, and performers have given musical theater audiences a gift-wrapped package that more than does justice to these classic songs.
Dennis Pauly wrote on June 20, 2015
I was totally underwhelmed. I imagine the show is fabulous to see and I hope to but I found the performances rather pedestrian. I admit I know nothing about music but after years of ELLA FITZGERALD SINGS THE GEORGE AND IRA GERSHWIN SONGBOOK and the cast album of CRAZY FOR YOU, this was a big disappointment.
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An American In Paris - 2015 Original Broadway Cast An American In Paris - 1951 Film Soundtrack Crazy For You Jill Paice Leanne Cope Robert Fairchild Christopher Wheeldon Brandon Uranowitz Bill Elliott Max von Essen Twiggy Gene Kelly Don Sebesky Ira Gershwin George Gershwin Rob Fisher Fidgety Feet (9) Someone to Watch over Me (72) Concerto in F (2) They Can't Take That Away From Me (52) The Man I Love (54) 'S Wonderful (32) Shall We Dance? (44) I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise (14) But Not for Me (50) I Got Rhythm (53) Toggle Additional (23)