“Singin’ in the Rain” may be the greatest movie musical, but for those with a penchant for all things French, nothing beats “An American in Paris.” A valentine to The City of Light, Vincente Minnelli’s MGM marvel is the kind of fairy tale only Hollywood could conjure. Or so it would seem. But in the hands of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon — who gave the Joffrey Ballet a sophisticated “Nutcracker” last season — this cinematic treasure comes alive onstage.
The Tony-winning musical tells the tale of GI Jerry Mulligan, an aspiring artist in post-war Paris, who falls for ballet dancer Lise Dassin. Sara Esty, who plays Lise, is a former soloist with the Miami City Ballet. “My favorite thing about Chris’s work is his effortless ability to tell a story through dance,” she says. “There are moments when the characters have stopped talking, but it feels as though the conversation is ongoing.”
While Esty surely had the dance ability, fully inhabiting the role required a little extra effort. “When I first started this journey, all of the ballet dancers were basically sent to boot camp. Singing lessons, acting classes, you name it. It opened my eyes to a whole new, amazingly complex world.”
For the most part, the musical follows the storyline of the movie, but the book, by playwright Craig Lucas, adds a little meat to the bone. His Paris is not the Technicolor fantasy of the film, but the worn-down metropolis it became once the war was over. “I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much more drama the musical has to offer than the film,” says McGee Maddox, the former National Ballet of Canada principal who portrays Jerry. “I think Craig Lucas and the creatives did something very brave,” adds Esty. “They managed to portray and preserve an important time in history, while also telling the incredible love story we know and adore from the movie. Today’s audiences can relate more to the depth Mr. Lucas has [added] about love conquering all, especially when overcoming tragedy.”
‘An American in Paris’
July 25-Aug. 13, Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. For tickets ($27-$98), visit Broadwayinchicago.com