Beyond a Re-creation: The Making of Théâtre du Châtelet’s “An American in Paris”

Date(s) - Dec 01

The Mona Bismarck American Center hosted a dynamic conversation with New York City Ballet dancer and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, Broadway producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan and musical director Rob Fisher. The discussion addressed the process behind the contemporary stage rendition of “An American in Paris,” including working with the music of George Gershwin, the influence of Gene Kelly’s original choreography on Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography, costume and set design and more. A reception with the conversation participants followed.

“An American in Paris”
The success of “Rhapsody in Blue” in 1924 allowed George Gershwin to travel to Europe and to meet a number of composers he admired during a stay in Paris. Stravinsky, Ravel, Poulenc and Milhaud all gave the American musician their recognition and encouragement. “An American in Paris,” composed in 1928, is a symphonic poem of about twenty minutes hailed by the critic Isaac Goldberg as being an “American Afternoon of a Faun.”

In 1950, the producer Arthur Freed wanted to illustrate Gershwin’s works, above all “An American.” As he later would do with “Singin’ in the Rain,” he put together a set of existing songs in which he created a story. Here, the story is of an American G.I., Jerry, a painter in Montmartre who is overflowing with joy and good temper. He meets Lise, a young saleswoman, but Lise is loved by Henri, a singer of middle-of-the-road popular songs. The feelings (love, disappointment, enjoyment and the blues) culminate in a ballet scene that sees the couple uniting in one of the most famous choreographies in the history of the Hollywood musical. Directed by Vincente Minnelli (who would become one of the specialists of the genre, with works including “The Band Wagon,” “Brigadoon” and “Gigi”), the film was awarded six Oscars.

Contrary to most cases, “An American in Paris” was not a Broadway show adapted into a movie to touch a wider audience. Jean-Luc Choplin and the Broadway producers Stuart Oken and Van Kaplan worked together on this production, which had its world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet before opening on Broadway in New York.

Jean-Luc Choplin
In January 2004, Jean-Luc Choplin was appointed director general of the Théâtre du Châtelet by the Mayor of Paris, a position he has held since July 2006. He has aimed to preserve the outstanding performance tradition of the Théâtre du Châtelet in the fields of dance and opera, while broadening the public appeal of the historical venue through the staging of innovative performances, including musical theater, which he introduced to France.

Van Kaplan
Van Kaplan is a theatrical producer and the executive producer of the Pittsburgh CLO, a non-profit arts organization that produces a subscription series and national tours, and develops and invests in new works, including 11 Broadway shows (12 Tony Awards) including “The Addams Family,” “Come Fly Away,” and “Catch Me If You Can.”

Christopher Wheeldon
Christopher Wheeldon is an English international choreographer of contemporary ballet. He joined the New York City Ballet in 1993 and was promoted to soloist in 1998. He served as the NYCB’s first-ever artist in residence in 2000/01 and was named the NYCB’s first resident choreographer in July 2001. Since then he has choreographed at least one ballet per year for the NYCB. Outside the ballet world, he has choreographed pieces for the Metropolitan Opera, the feature film “Center Stage” and “Sweet Smell of Success” on Broadway, among others.

His awards include the Martin E. Segal Award from Lincoln Center, the American Choreography Award, a Dance Magazine Award, the London Critic’s Circle Award for best new ballet for “Polyphonia” and two Olivier awards, most recently for “Aeternum,” choreographed in January 2013 for the Royal Ballet. Mr. Wheeldon’s recent production of “Cinderella” won the 2013 Benois De La Danse.

Rob Fisher
Musical director, conductor and internationally renowned pianist Rob Fisher is a key figure in the American music scene. From 1994 to 2005 he was music director of Encores! (New York City Center), where he is still a regular guest and is involved in many recordings, including “Chicago” (cast album, Grammy Award). In 2007 Rob Fisher was music director of “Hair” in Central Park (musical supervisor and submission to Broadway, which earned him a Tony Award in 2009) and leads the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the triumphant return of “My Fair Lady.” A regular guest of the most prestigious American orchestras, Rob Fisher contributes regularly to concerts with artists such as Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, Victoria Clark, Brian Stokes Mitchell and David Hyde Pierce. He was also music director of the American Radio Company of Garrison Keillor and is a regular guest on his show “A Prairie Home Companion.”

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