In this time of national division and upheaval, we can be forgiven for craving a little feelgood. And what feels better than a good musical?
As if on cue, two good’uns are coming to this area, both of them stage versions of beloved movies. This week through Sunday, An American in Paris fills the stage at the Bushnell in Hartford, while the more intimate and informal Once plays a one-night stand at the UMass Fine Arts Center on December 1st.
An American in Paris is the big Broadway adaptation of the big 1951 Hollywood musical starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. It closed last month in New York and has just begun a national tour with former Broadway leads Garen Scribner and Sara Esty.
Both the film and the show follow a group of postwar expats led by Jerry Mulligan, who decides to pursue his career as an artist in the newly liberated City of Lights after his army service on the European front – and promptly falls in love with aspiring ballerina Lise Bouvier. And both versions are as filled with dancing as they are with songs. In his Times review, Ben Brantley called the musical, directed and choreographed by ballet superstar Christopher Wheeldon, “happily dance-drunk.”
The score is by George and Ira Gershwin, with a new script by playwright Craig Lucas, and there are more songs than in the movie. The classics “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “’s Wonderful” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” are joined by other standards, including “The Man I Love,” “But Not for Me” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” together with the climactic extended dance sequence that gives the piece its title.
Guy Meets Girl
I feel a kinship with Once, because in a former life I did my own share of street-busking, like the bluejeaned lead in the 2007 film. It’s a simple, poignant tale that’s both heartrending and uplifting, filled with simple, tuneful songs that strike the same balance.
Where An American in Paris is big and boisterous and dance-infused, Once is more compact, laid-back and song-centered. (And let’s note with some satisfaction that it ran almost twice as long on Broadway as An American in Paris and picked up twice as many Tonys.) Playwright Enda Walsh’s stage adaptation condenses the film’s sidewalks, shops and flats into a single setting: an Irish pub, where (and in my experience, this is often true) all the regulars are also musicians.
They include the two central characters, called only Guy and Girl, played here by Sam Cieri and Mackenzie Lesser-Roy. He’s a broody Dublin guitar-picker on the verge of chucking his musical dreams, she’s the gutsy Czech pianist with whom he ultimately achieves them. If the musical focuses the film, it also amplifies it, adding a few songs to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s original score, along with a little of that Broadway must-have, dancing.
The cast-cum-band has a singaround on the set during the half hour before the show starts, when a limited number of patrons can join them at the onstage bar – first come, first served, cash only, with Guinness on tap, I assume. Tickets and info at fac.umass.edu.
An American in Paris photos by Matthew Murphy
Once photos by Joan Marcus
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