The French Go Crazy For 'An American In Paris' : Parallels The first-ever stage production of the 1951 Hollywood film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, with a Gershwin score, is getting rave reviews during its premiere in the city that inspired it.
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The French Go Crazy For 'An American In Paris'

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The French Go Crazy For 'An American In Paris'

The French Go Crazy For 'An American In Paris'

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The 1950s Hollywood classic movie "An American In Paris," starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, and featuring music by George Gershwin, is getting a second life on the stage. The show will play on Broadway next spring, but first, it's having its debut in Paris to sold-out audiences and rave reviews. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley attended the performance, and she sent us this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "AN AMERICAN IN PARIS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Singing) Wonderful. Marvelous.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Parisians are going gaga over "An American In Paris." The stage production is such a hit. There's not a seat to be had through the show's closing in January. It's not hard to see why as the stage comes alive with fabulous dancing and all those great Gershwin tunes. Nicole Fechant and Guy Mai are positively gushing after a show.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Oh, it was a total marvel, they say. We could see it again and again. It was so dynamic - so American. Director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon says creating the show was not about adapting the movie for the stage. The film, he says, was used as a springboard to create a new version. One change - the setting is no longer 1950s Paris but Paris right after the Nazi occupation.

CHRISTOPHER WHEELDON: We felt that in order to make the joyfulness and romance even more potent that we would place it, you know, really, directly after the end of the war, while the city itself is also sort of filling with light and joy and love again.

BEARDSLEY: Wheeldon says there was an exhaustive search for the leads. They weren't looking for Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron - not only would that have been impossible, he says, but they wanted to discover fresh faces.

LEANNE COPE: And if I lean out really far, I can just about see the Eiffel Tower. But...

BEARDSLEY: Leanne Cope leads me to her dressing room, which looks over the Seine River. Cope has taken a sabbatical from the Royal Ballet in London to play the lead female role. She says being in Paris has helped her incarnate the character, Lise.

COPE: The first day I got here I woke up very early, and I just went for a walk along the Seine. And I found a bench, and I was like OK. This is where Lise and Gerry would have their moment. And I think it's amazing that we came here first because we're living it here and that we can cherish that and bring that with us to New York.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) (Singing) Who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anything more?

BEARDSLEY: The musical is co-produced with Paris' Chatelet Theatre. For the last decade, its director Jean Luc Choplin has made Paris the European venue for major American musicals and created a French appetite for the genre.

JEAN LUC CHOPLIN: We presented this classical Broadway pieces like we would present Opera - extraordinary directors, big orchestras in the pit, great lyric singers. It has proven to be so successful that today when I opened "An American In Paris," I have sold out of 40 performances.

BEARDSLEY: Gershwin wrote the score for "An American In Paris" in 1928, inspired by a visit to the French capital. The stage musical has more of his songs and spectacular ballet, tap and modern dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIZA")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) (Singing) Liza.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) (Singing) Liza.

BEARDSLEY: 27-year-old Robert Fairchild plays Gerry Mulligan, Gene Kelly's character in the movie. Fairchild, who dances with the New York City Ballet, says Kelly was his idol growing up. Playing this role in Paris, he says, is a dream come true.

ROBERT FAIRCHILD: Getting to sing and dance and act on stage and live this out every night is one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given. It is so much fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT RHYTHM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) (Singing) I got starlight. I got sweet trees. Sentimental.

BEARDSLEY: This show brims with the thrill and discovery of being an American in Paris. And the cast says it hopes to bring that spirit to Broadway next March.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters) I've got. I got. Who could ask for anything more? Who could ask for anything more?

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

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