Wheeldon follows the Balanchine road to Broadway

With songs like Embraceable You, I Got Rhythm, and S’Wonderful, the movie, An American in Paris was a perfect showcase for dance.

The 1951 musical, directed by Vincente Minnelli, with a book by Alan Jay Lerner, and starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, was a huge hit for MGM winning six Academy Awards including Best Picture.

The finale to the movie is a long ballet sequence danced to George Gershwin’s 1928 composition titled An American in Paris, but the film is crammed full of great and danceable songs by George and Ira Gershwin, including Our Love is Here to Stay and Stairway to Paradise.

Now, Christopher Wheeldon and the playwright Craig Lucas are adapting the movie for a stage production, with Wheeldon to be both choreographer and director.

Auditions will be held this week for singers for the new stage show and a six-week development project will begin in New York on 28 October.

Wheeldon will be following in the footsteps of the great American choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, who both choreographed for Broadway shows, with Robbins’ biggest hit being West Side Story and Balanchine choreographing more than 20 musicals.

In 1970, Balanchine honoured the music of the Gershwins in his ballet, Who Cares? danced to 17 Gershwin songs orchestrated by Hershy Kay. (Four of those songs are also in An American in Paris.)

Balanchine’s biographer, Bernard Taper, writes that the choreographer was on friendly terms with Ira Gershwin since at least 1937 when the two worked together on the movie, The Goldwyn Follies.

The big casting decision for Wheeldon will be choosing who will play the acting/dancing roles of the two leads, Jerry Mulligan, a struggling American artist in Paris (Gene Kelly in the movie) and Lise Bouvier, the young French woman he loves (Leslie Caron).

This will be Wheeldon’s second bid for Broadway success. His first was in 2002 with the choreography for a musical adaptation of the film, The Sweet Smell of Success.

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Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in An American in Paris

Christopher Wheeldon, photo © Rosalie O’Connor

Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly in An American in Paris

Gene Kelly draws a self portrait in An American in Paris

An American in Paris, poster, 1951