On Thursday night, we saw “An American in Paris”. It played on Broadway, winning four Tony awards before moving on to Paris and now, London. It is based on the 1951 film with George and Ira Gershwin’s music that won six Oscars. Since it was just six years after the end of WWII, the movie is played as a lighthearted romp, filled with tap dancing.
On the stage, the focus is on the romantic story of a young American soldier and a beautiful French girl in Paris, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. The American GI, Jerry, a painter in Montmartre meets Lise, a young saleswoman. Lise however, is loved by Henri, a rich kid singer of middle-of-the-road popular songs.
The stage version is balletic, even to the point of including a 15+-minute classical ballet when Jerry and Lise reunite, after it seemed their love would be unfulfilled. The sets are magical. A swastika flag turns into the French Tricolor before our eyes. Backlit screens showing Paris are conjured in line drawings that are slowly sketched in, like our hero Jerry, the GI artist might do on the streets of the city. All of the sets are animated by 59 Productions. As the images float in, computers project these scenes exactly on time with the set as it moves into place. (Sorry no photos are allowed in the theater!)
This was a wonderful experience, and Wrongo and Ms. Right, who missed in on Broadway, were delighted to see it here. “Who could ask for anything more?”
After the show, we were fortunate to meet with Leanne Cope, the Tony nominee who played Lise in NYC, Paris and now in London. She was joined by Zoe Rainey and Julia Nagle, featured members of the cast. Cope is a member of the Royal Ballet and brings those skills to the role of Lise, plus she also has a beautiful singing voice.
It is incredibly difficult to perform the dancing sections for eight days each week, and Leanne said that the fear of injury is always present. She only performs seven of the weekly shows, and thus gets a long weekend each week for rest and recovery.
On Friday, we traveled out of London to Highclere Castle for dinner:
2017 photo by Wrongo
This is the big highlight of a highlight-filled week in London. Obviously, we did not dress for dinner like Lord and Lady Crawley did in the 1900’s, but the Castle insisted there should be no stilettos or sneakers. Turns out they have been doing private dinners for a couple of years. They have the occasional marriage on site as well.
We had a brief tour of the bedrooms shown on the series, but what was the most interesting was our tour of the Egyptian antiquities that were discovered by the fifth Lord Carnarvon. He and Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. Much of the Lord’s collection was sold in the 1920’s to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum. Howard Carter catalogued what remained and said he had stored a few unimportant items at Highclere.
Those items were hidden within the Castle, until re-discovered by the family in 1987. An incredible story.
We had dinner in the dining room that is featured on the show, and it was outstanding. But a big thrill for those who watched “Downton Abbey” on PBS was that after the meal, someone said, “Shall we go through?” And we retired to the magnificent library for coffee, and single malt or cognac.
We can marvel at the manner in which some at the very top of the wealth pyramid lived back then, but remember, the castle still doesn’t have central heating. Highclere was part of a lifestyle on a grand scale that, for both social and financial reasons, can no longer exist, probably not even for the most obscenely wealthy hedge fund guys of today.
Here is the theme music from the show for our Saturday Soother. Our driver had the CD playing as we drove up to the main entrance of the castle:
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