For our 20th Anniversary trip, Will and I headed to NYC for a couple days to celebrate the anniversary and see some shows. We saw three in two days and they were each excellent.
It was easy to see why An American in Paris was nominated for 12 Tonys this year. The show is simply sublime. I was hooked from the beautiful opening dance number that marked the end of World War II and the decision by a US serviceman to remain in Paris.
The love story (no vengeance in this show) is a bit mixed in the first act as three guys all want the same girl, but it settles down in the second act and the romance really takes flight. The singing is all Gershwin, so that’s perfect from the get go. The songs include “I Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful,” “Shall We Dance” and “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” and many others.
Christopher Wheeldon, who we saw this past October direct and choreograph Swan Lake for the Joffrey, choreographs and directs this show brilliantly. The dances he created here are a little bit ballet and a little bit contemporary and work with the score to perfection. It doesn’t hurt that the leads, Robert Fairchild as Jerry and Leanne Cope as Lise, are both trained ballet dancers. Even the scenic changes are choreographed and that just made it more perfect.
Max von Essen, a favorite since Dance of the Vampires, was delightful as Henri, who starts out in love with Lise, but for the wrong reasons. He’s dynamic as we learn why he feels the way he does. Veanne Cox and Scott Willis as Henri’s parents have a delightful arc as Parisians who learn how to get back to normal life after the occupation.
I’m so glad we made this a show for the trip because I was completely swept away by it. See the video below for some scenes from the show.
Seeing Chita Rivera was one of the reasons we planned this show for this week. Will and I have seen her many times during our years together–Chita and All The Jazz in San Francisco, Kiss of the Spider Woman on tour in Portland, Chita Rivera: A Dancer’s on Life and The Mystery of Edwin Drood both on Broadway. To add this show to that list, which is also the final John Kander and Fred Ebb musical, was a must.
This is a very dark show, which is not new territory for Chita or Kander & Ebb. After all, Spider Woman isn’t exactly a feel-good story, nor is Chicago for that matter.
Chita plays Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world. She’s come home, after decades away, to seek vengeance against the lover who scorned her back when they were seventeen. She offers to bail the town, and every one of its citizens, out of its financial troubles if they will kill Anton Schell.
Chita nails this performance with a powerful command of the stage and an presence that goes between warm (even though she wants him dead, her visits with Anton show the spark they once had) to icy (as she lays out for the town exactly what she wants and was she’s done to ensure she gets it). Chita’s in great voice here, wrapping her voice around Kander & Ebb once again. There’s not a lot of choreography in this show, but Chita and Emily Mechler, who played Young Claire, dance a pas de deux that is beautiful.
The rest of the cast here is top notch. Roger Rees as Anton is a broken man who realizes that his end is near. Mary Beth Peil is Anton’s downtrodden wife who isn’t thrilled Clarie’s back but sees the opportunities to be had if her husband is killed. Jason Danieley is superb in his featured role as the town’s school master and Anton’s best friend. His “The Only One” is a powerful song about being torn between what’s good for the town and the loss of his friend.
This was an odd musical in many ways, but people need to give it a go for the wonderful performances from Chita and Roger, and an interesting story that raises some interesting questions about how far a town would go to bail itself out… not to mention how far one woman will go to get the justice that was denied her.
The video below for Chita singing “Love and Love Alone,” which includes the pas de deux with Michelle Veintimilla (the regular Young Clarie, we saw her understudy).
Love and vengeance were in equal measure for American Ballet Theatre’s Othello. This was a treat! Many of the ballets we’ve seen with ABT over the years have been steeped in classical choreography. This one, created in 1997 for ABT by Lar Lubovitch, is more modern in its choreography. The music by Elliot B. Goldenthal is much more urgent than other productions. Don’t get me wrong, I love everything I’ve seen from ABT over the years, but this was in a different vein and quite enjoyable.
The story isn’t based on either the short story or the play, but “interprets the ancient legend of the Moor though a series of images which accumulate to capture the essence of the tale and its famous characters through the language of dance.” For me, it did just that. The romance between Othello and Desdemona was exquisite. The evil jealously exuded off of Iago. The innocence of Cassio, a young ensign who was caught up in Iago’s ruthless plans, and Emilia, Iago’s wife, was heartfelt. Bianca, a young woman who leads a Tarantella to celebrate the return of Othello and his men, has a joyful time.
The centerpiece of the story was Othello and Desdemona. Their love was so perfectly played by Marcello Gomes and Julie Kent. In Act I, when he presents a handkerchief to her as a token of his love on their wedding was beautiful. It’s Act II that took my breath away. As Othello returns from a mission, his reunion with Desdemona was one of the most romantic pieces of dance I’ve ever seen. That continued with their dancing throughout Act II, up to Iago’s deception to break them up. After that it’s heartbreaking to watch Desdemona try to explain that she doesn’t know what’s happening as Othello fights with himself because he loves Desdemona, but yet appears to have been betrayed by her.
James Whiteside, another ABT principal, was excellent as Iago, stalking, or rather dancing, about the stage in rage. Joseph Gorak and Stella Abrera, two of ABT’s soloists, were striking as Cassio and Emilia. Gorak had so much innocence and good infused in Cassio, it was sad to see him fall to Iago’s treachery. Abrera’s Emilia showed the fear of her husband while wanting to clear Desdemona’s good name. Soloist Misty Copeland played Bianca and her joyful dance was a light hearted moment against everything else.
I have to come back though to Gomes and Kent who were beyond superb. It turns out the Wednesday evening performance it the last time these two will dance together. Kent is retiring in June and while she’s playing in Giselle (May 25) and Romeo & Juliet (June 20, for her finale), she’ll be with Roberto Bolle for both of those. I suspect this infused their performance with a little something extra, and it also made for a tearful curtain call as their ABT partnership came to a close (we were lucky enough to see them partner for a repertory program in 2013, Swan Lake in 2012 and Cinderella in 2011). I’m very glad we got to see their final performance together.