An American in Paris on Broadway, with Gene Kelly

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In October 2013, press announcements for a Broadway version of the film musical An American In Paris (1951) began to circulate. Readers learned that the show would commence in Paris in December 2014, and then move to Broadway in March of the following year. Six months later, word followed about its home base (NYC’s Palace Theatre), director, choreographer, primary cast, and production team.

Fast-forward to this week: pre-sale tickets for the Broadway show went on sale, a behind-the-scenes video was released, and for the Huffington Post, Patricia Ward Kelly penned “An American in Paris without Gene Kelly?” It’s the third event I’d like to explore further.

Gene and An American in Paris

In her article, Ward Kelly writes that the Théâtre du Châtelet, the Parisian playhouse premiering the stage version of An American in Paris, fails to reference her late husband, Gene Kelly, in its promotion. In her words, “I was surprised not to see him even mentioned on the page.” Moreover, that Gene is “omitted entirely—is both sad and careless.”

A bit of context for those unfamiliar with the original: while Vincente Minnelli directed An American In Paris, the film is, most critics would agree, Gene Kelly’s. As Ward Kelly rightly points out, Kelly choreographs the entire film, most crucially the “An American in Paris Ballet”—aka. that staggering 17-minute feat for which the picture is most celebrated.

In this, we must also remember that Kelly, as he does with most of his onscreen works, choreographs not only the dancing, but also the camera movements that accompany the dance (cine-dance, he called it). He explains this in The Magic Factory: How MGM Made An American in Paris (1973).

People have often asked me about the choreography on certain pictures, and I find that they do not understand that a really good film choreographer, as opposed to a stage choreographer, will compose for the camera. Each series of steps has to be shot from a certain angel to be seen best. There is always a “best” angle.

Yep, the man knows his filmmaking.

To this end, it would indeed be “both sad and careless” (to repeat Ward Kelly) if not only the Théâtre du Châtelet, but also Broadway and other promoters of the stage show failed to cite Gene Kelly’s contributions. But from what I’ve seen, this is not the case.

Broadway’s An American in Paris in the Media

First, the Théâtre du Châtelet does mention Gene Kelly (and Minnelli) on its webpage, in both its French and English versions:

Directed by Vincente Minnelli (who would become one of the specialists of the genre) including The Band Wagon, Brigadoon or Gigi), the film was rewarded six Oscars. And Gene Kelly recieved an Honorary Academy Award for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.

Granted, the Théâtre could’ve chosen a better and/or lengthier description of Kelly’s association with the original film. But his Honorary Oscar for An American in Paris is a big deal, and noting his choreography on the film is worthwhile.

As it currently stands, Broadway’s website actually fares poorer. Aside from its “News” section, Gene Kelly’s name isn’t mentioned here at all. Still, on social media, Broadway does market the original alongside the stage production (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter). Sooooo, bygones?

But let’s look at the overall picture. With the exception of a few bulletins like Playbill‘sVariety‘s, and Broadway World‘s, almost every media text that has announced this film-to-stage adaptation prominently features Gene Kelly’s name—and the original MGM musical, for that matter. See, for example,

In fact, as you can see from the screenshots below, many of these bulletins even embed images of Gene Kelly and the film as well as videos of the kick-ass ballet. What’s more, some announcements lead off with statements about Hollywood’s classical song-and-dance man:

“Gene Kelly film An American in Paris is being adapted for the stage and will premiere in Paris late next year.”

The musical adaptation of the 1951 Gene Kelly film will begin previews in March, following its world premiere in Paris.

Lingering Thoughts

I won’t lie: I’m skeptical as hell about this screen-to-stage transference of An American in Paris. Specifically, to stage that iconic ballet for the theatrical stage does a huge disservice to the combined filmic and dance choreography that Kelly envisioned and then created onscreen. In other words, the camerawork here is AS important as the dance choreography. But onstage, of course, that element would be removed from the equation. [End rant.]

That said, I’m not as skeptical about the promotion of Broadway’s An American in Paris. Again, based on virtually everything published thus far (in both ink and pixels), Gene Kelly’s legacy is still heavily aligned with the Broadway production. It is clearly his film first, Broadway’s second. Only time will tell if Broadway gets it right.

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Update (18 Nov. 2014): Patricia Ward Kelly informed me that the Théâtre du Châtelet added a(nother) line about Gene Kelly as a result of her Huffington Post piece: “As concieved [sic] by choreographer and star Gene Kelly…” From what I can tell, however, the excerpt I’ve quoted above—about Kelly’s honorary Oscar for his choreography—has always been on the site, as the French version (to date) has been left unaltered. I’m currently awaiting a confirmation from the Théâtre du Châtelet.

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