“AN AMERICAN IN PARIS,” through April 6, Hale Centre Theatre Centre Stage, 9900 S. Monroe St., Sandy (801-984-9000 or hct.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
SANDY — ”'S wonderful, 'S marvelous, that she should care for me.”
In the musical “An American in Paris,” friends Jerry, Adam and Henri sway, sing and harmonize to that George and Ira Gershwin tune, smiles beaming across their faces. Unfortunately, all three men are singing about the same girl.
Unbeknownst to each other, the three friends are in love with the French ballerina Lise. Jerry, an American soldier and aspiring painter, has decided to rebuild his life in the City of Lights after World War II and is immediately smitten when he spots Lise in the busy Paris streets. Pianist and fellow soldier Adam is composing a ballet with Lise as the star. And then there’s the wealthy Frenchman Henri, a wannabe nightclub entertainer who’s never actually told his friends his girlfriend’s name and is working up the courage to propose to Lise.
That’s the dance-infused story that unfolded at the Hale Centre Theatre Wednesday night — emphasis on dance. Although a musical, “An American in Paris,” which runs through April 6, doesn’t showcase vocals as much as it does impressive ballet and pointe technique, and it often uses lengthy dance sequences rather than singing to tell the story.
And for the most part, it works — based on the classic 1951 film starring Gene Kelly, the musical won a Tony Award for choreography, after all. It’s easy to see why Juliet Doherty is single-cast as the mysterious dancer Lise in HCT’s production. The 21-year-old ballerina is captivating to watch and performs the demanding role with ease — even though the role isn’t easy on her toes.
The dance sequences are charming, but it seems in casting, HCT has sacrificed stand-out vocals for show-stopping dance numbers. Fortunately for all singing, it’s near-impossible to botch upbeat tunes like “I’ve Got Rhythm” and “Fidgety Feet.”
In his HCT debut, Myles Woolstenhulme — a full-time member with Salt Contemporary Dance — brought his expertise to the leading role of Jerry (Monday/Wednesday/Friday). As the nightclub entertainer Henri, Adam Dietlein (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) was by far the best vocalist of the evening. An HCT veteran who’s played Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” and Javert in “Les Miserables,” Dietlein was a great fit for the Frenchman. But it was when Woolstenhulme, Dietlein and Andrew Robertson — who was wonderful in his role as the simultaneously jaded and optimistic Adam (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) — were harmonizing together that the singing was best.
Although often lighthearted and celebratory — park benches and umbrellas are turned into dancing props without a second thought — the musical doesn’t stray from weighty issues. According to director Dave Tinney’s program notes, this “gravitas” is where the musical veers from the 1951 film. Tinney writes that the film “was mostly a vehicle to celebrate the music of George Gershwin and the talents of its stars” — not unlike what “Mamma Mia” has done for ABBA today.
But in this musical adaptation, it’s clear people are recovering from WWII and the Nazi regime, and all protagonists in the story are healing from their war wounds — physical and emotional. “For four years, the City of Lights went dark,” we hear at the musical’s onset.1 comment on this story
Through art, music and dance, Jerry, Adam, Henri and Lise are rebuilding their lives in a postwar era. Near the musical's beginning, Adam says he should be writing music that shares all the things he witnessed during the war. But Henri believes life is dreary enough and music should give people a chance to celebrate.
And therein lies the power of art: its double ability to bring dark things to light and light to dark times.
HCT's “An American in Paris” largely embraces the latter, and through the swinging, jazzy tunes, the high kicks, leaps and expressive ballet, the characters are able to come to terms with their realities and put the pieces of their lives back together.
Who could ask for anything more?
Content advisory: “An American in Paris” contains mild swearing throughout.