‘American In Paris’ At The Buell: Same Music, Different Storyline Than 1951 Film

The Tony Award winning musical “An American in Paris” plays March 8th – March 19th at the Buell Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets and information go to a special “An American in Paris” page at denvercenter.org. 

DENVER (CBS4) – Broadway musical “An American in Paris” features beloved Gershwin music, but a slightly different story line from the 1951 movie. At the center of the Broadway hit is a spark of undeniable energy, the object of everyone’s affection played by dancer, Sarah Esty. While the audience will find many references to the 1951 Academy Award winning movie, the show has a new energy right at its core.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

“So when our curtain goes up, you see the Nazi flag being ripped down and the liberation of Paris. Re-growing after tragedy. So it definitely has a darker tone for the beginning of our show, but you still have the same characters that you learn to love, and yeah, slightly different storyline, but there are nods to the movie in there,” Esty told CBS4.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

What’s also interesting is that when Sara is not on stage, 2 out of 8 shows a week, her role is taken over by her twin sister, Leigh-Ann Esty.

Leigh-Ann & Sara Esty (credit CBS) Leigh-Ann & Sara Esty (credit CBS)

“Yeah, it’s different being in the ensemble versus this because it’s just a totally different mindset,” Leigh-Ann said.

“And it’s kind of an out of body experience because it’s like ‘looks like me, sounds like me,’” Sara added.

Both have slightly different way of approaching the role.

“Even though we’re identical twins, we do things differently, and so, it’s fun to be able to watch and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve never heard that line like that before,’” Sara said.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

There are very few musicals on the road that are as dance-centric as “An American in Paris”. But this jazz inspired, symphonic poem from Gershwin is a breath of fresh air, made all the more so by this inspired cast.

“An American in Paris” is a classic movie, an academy award winner. It’s also a stage show that takes the basics of the movie and gives them more depth, without losing the magic of the show itself.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

“Craig Lucas did an amazing job, deepening the book for ‘An American in Paris’ because in 1951, they couldn’t really paint as real of a picture of what happened post World War II. It didn’t happen in Hollywood, so we’re sort of given an opportunity where we can be a little more real and find more depth in the story,” said Ryan Steele, who is part of the ensemble and is the alternate for “Jerry.”

Ryan Steele realizes that shows like this, with dance built so deeply into the characters and plot line, don’t come along that often.

“This is such a gift… such a gift to be doing this,” he told CBS4.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

Every actor looks for that moment when the cast knows they’ve got the audience, when they’ve hooked them, when the audience is invested right until the final curtain. Steele said that in “An American in Paris” they know almost immediately.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

“I think at the very top of the show, the music comes on and Etai walks on with a cigarette, and the ensemble and ‘Jerry’ are upstage of the black curtain. And we’re listening and when he says, ‘…cheese..’ and we hear the audience laugh. We’re all back there like, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be a good house tonight…yeah, it’s gonna be a good cheese night,'” Steele explained.

The dream is to perform, the reality is that’s a tough road, even when you graduate from a place as special as the Denver School of the Arts.

“Knew I wanted to be a dance. I was a dance major in high school. And I figured I’d just be a professional right away, but my parents thought college would be a better transition. So I attended the University of Arizona in Tuscon as a dance major, and toured with a small company called ‘Bad Boys of Dance’ around Europe after that. Moved to New York and I suppose just kept plugging away,” said Barton Cowperthwaite, a member of the cast of “An American in Paris” and a graduate of the Denver School of the Arts.

Cowperthwaite knew he wanted to dance, to perform, but it took years of hard work and a singular vision to make it into the cast of “An American in Paris.”

“I lived in New York for just close to 3-years before I landed this, and I was doing a lot of different odd jobs. Thankfully all in the arts, I’ve been very, very fortunate,” Cowperthwaite told CBS4.

"An American in Paris" (credit DCPA) “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

It took luck, continual training, hard work, and a determination to persevere that brought Cowperthwaite to the Broadway stage, but it also took an artist’s driving need to simply create.

“It’s fantastic. Luck kind of only scratches the surface,” he said. “It’s rare in musical theater to think that you’ll get to put all of the tools that you’ve trained to create to use. And this is the epitome of what a dance should and could be doing on Broadway.”

Actor Etai Benson plays “Adam Hochberg” in “An American in Paris”, who is essentially George Gershwin looking for inspiration in the city of light.

“‘Adam Hochberg’ is sort of a stand in for Gershwin. He’s a composer, and the whole conceit of our show is that the music you’re hearing is his work, and it’s Gershwin’s music. And in many ways, he’s the American in Paris, just like Gershwin went to Paris and was inspired to write his masterpiece,” Benson told CBS4.

"An American in Paris" (credit CBS) “An American in Paris” (credit CBS)

Along the way, he keeps hitting a road block, his music is missing one vital element.

“And that missing element is love. This is a guy who was injured in the war. He’s a Jewish, American soldier from World War II, and you can only imagine the things that he saw and the things that he was feeling during that time. And so at the beginning of the play he’s obsessed with darkness, and obsessed with all the things he saw, and the things he experienced, and it takes falling in love to bring him out of that,” Benson explained.

That falling in love leads to an epiphany… a painful one.

"An American in Paris" (credit CBS) “An American in Paris” (credit CBS)

“He talks about the girl leaves who he’s in love with and he says, ‘You know I did get the girl because I put her in the music.’ And that’s really what our show is about…it’s kind of like the Carrie Fisher quote that’s been going around, ‘Take your broken heart and turn it into art,'” Benson said.

It’s quite the heart breaking journey, for one American in Paris.

Nick Spangler really wanted to be in this show, auditioning for three years, until he finally got the role of “Henri Baurel” in the national touring company of “An American in Paris.”

american in paris review American In Paris At The Buell: Same Music, Different Storyline Than 1951 Film “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

“For me, personally, as a performer, this is a show unlike any other that I’ve been a part of. I’ve been a part of very small musicals like ‘The Fantasticks’ off-Broadway and very big musicals like ‘The Book of Mormon’ on Broadway, and this falls in it’s completely own category. It’s a piece of very high art but it’s also very accessible to audiences, so I really like being involved with something that’s so well created and well written,” Spangler told CBS4.

Part of that is simply the explosion of dance that fills every corner of this show from the opening moments of the liberation of Paris to the closing number. While it is loosely based on the 1951 Academy award winning movie, for Nick, no matter what you may expect when you walk into the threater, you will get something you’ve never before seen on stage.

american in paris American In Paris At The Buell: Same Music, Different Storyline Than 1951 Film “An American in Paris” (credit DCPA)

“Regardless of the expectations people have when they come to see the show, I think within the first five minutes they’re completely out the window because I think that what our show establishes right at the beginning is that this is a new piece of theater that nobody has expected or seen before. And I think, it is so exciting from the first moment that people don’t care about what they expected and what they wanted because what we give them, I think, on the whole, is just very pleasing and exciting,” Spangler explained.

Critic-at-Large Greg Moody’s Review:

“An American in Paris” is an explosion of music and dance; ballet, modern, jazz, even Vegas. It’s everything in one place tied in a great ribbon of a love story. Craig Lucas built a wonderful musical around the music of George and Ira Gershwin, as well as, the plot of the 1951 Academy award winning movie. But what brings you in and holds you is the dance brought to life by Sarah Esty and Garen Scribner. Then again the entire cast is wonderful, especially Etai Benson filling for Gershwin and Nick Spangler as the French “Baurel” determined to be a New York dancing star. It’s a show that never let’s up on it’s movement, it’s emotion, or it’s story. It draws you in and holds you like few shows I’ve ever seen. I just loved it.

Comments

One Comment

  1. This is a beautiful show both in terms of the story and the incredible dancing. Have seen it in Paris and several times in NYC. Don’t miss it.

  2. Duane Howell says:

    This will need to be Changed to.. “Muslims in Paris” the Chanting…

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