An American in Paris Brings Broadway and Ballet to Chicago

Calling all dance aficionados! Tony-Award winning, An American in Paris has arrived at the Oriental Theatre for its limited engagement running now through August 13. The coveted Broadway musical tells a story of love in the city of lights after WW2. With the stunning direction and choreography of Christopher Wheldon, the city of Paris comes to life in more ways than one, and in turn transforms this musical ballet into a work of art you don’t want to miss. The score included some of my all-time favorite hits, such as “I Got Rhythm,” which, paired with the lovely music from original composer George Gershwin, managed to entertain, woo, and blow me away. With ballet numbers that had me wondering whether their bodies were being held up by strings, and a story line that sparked conversation, An American in Paris is a great adult night out in our own city of lights. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The show takes place in Paris where Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), a now-retired American soldier, decides to stick around after the war and find inspiration for his art. Jerry meets Adam (Etai Benson), a composer looking for some inspiration, and Henri (Nick Spangler), an heir to his family’s textile business waiting for his big break as a performer. Before you know it, Jerry and his new crew are the three musketeers of Paris. Of course, this only lasts until our mysterious protagonist, Lise (Sara Esty) enters their lives, and changes their plans. Lise is an up-and-coming ballerina, who feels as if her future with Henri, whose family risked their lives by deciding to hide her during the Nazi occupation, is all but waiting for a wedding date. While she sets her mind on her leading role in an upcoming ballet, the three men shift their focus on how to win over Lise’s love and attention. Let’s just say not everyone can get the girl, but at least everyone learns something along the way.

Maddox and Esty do a truly spectacular job and bring this ballet to life. With their fluid yet precise motions, they tell a story of unrequited and pining love that lyrics and words could not have described. Esty proves to be a triple threat with her killer acting chops, singing voice and dance moves. While the tone of the show tends to steer towards being hectic, Benson and Spangler create a marvelous connection with each other and the crowd. Their comedic timing and use of satire, especially by Benson, create a contrast that is necessary to keep the audience engaged. The climax of the show arrives at the opening night of Lise’s debut in a ballet.  The magic of Bob Crowley’s set and costume design shine in this setting--with an entire ensemble of classically trained dancers entrancing the audience with their moves. Esty and Maddox. Photo by Matthew Murphy. If you enjoy dance, this show is for you. If you don’t, it may still be the best way to enjoy ballet and modern dance without seeing an entire show at the Joffrey. My last tidbit is that I wish the story had a slightly more feminist-friendly outcome. I didn’t LOVE that Lise had little say in her future--but I’ll let you decide for yourself if this is perhaps my own take, or whether it’s just the show remaining true to its original roots and reality of its time period. Overall, head out to the Oriental Theatre and add a little art and culture to your Chicago summer night! Tickets range from $27-$103 and can be found here.
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Andrea Palm