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Charm, humor, color keep 'American in Paris' twirling at the Hippodrome

A scene from the stage musical "An American in Paris."
A scene from the stage musical "An American in Paris."(Matthew Murphy)

The whole movie-into-stage-musical thing has gone on so long, and has produced so many yawns (or worse), that "An American in Paris" — at the Hippodrome through the weekend — is all the more a surprise and a charmer.

Ardent fans of the 1951 movie starring Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly might not be satisfied, especially if they expect a frame-by-frame recreation. And I readily admit that the all-important final ballet sequence — such a rich, crucial part of the movie — left me cold, the only part of Christopher Wheeldon's choreography that didn't seem fully inspired.

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But forget all that. What counts is that Craig Lucas has fashioned a tight book that gives the characters a good deal of flesh-and-blood depth, while building up a tender, rather affecting portion of good old-fashioned heart.

By moving the action to the days immediately after the liberation of Paris, Lucas provides a more meaningful context to the circuitous love story of the mysterious French woman Lise Dassin (Allison Walsh) and the three men — compatriot Henri Baurel (Ben Michael), American vets Jerry Mulligan (Kyle Robinson) and Adam Hochberg (Matthew Scott) — who vie for her affection.

As the national touring production of the Broadway musical "An American in Paris" heads to Baltimore, book writer Craig Lucas and star Allison Walsh discuss the process of turning a popular movie into a stage work.

Note, too, how much of the wit in the dialogue actually clicks (a few anachronisms can be excused). The result is enough light entertainment to evoke the pleasures of a vintage musical, while the genuine sentiment woven into plot comes across with a certain contemporary savvy and suavity.

Neither Walsh nor Robinson is a born singer, but both handle that part of the assignment quite respectably, while also showing off very persuasive acting skills. What really counts, of course, is their dancing, and these seasoned ballet artists deliver handsomely.

Scott is a most amiable anchor for the show. He delivers the narrative bits with such naturalness that you forget what a routine theatrical device that is, and subtly reveals considerable depth to Adam's character. All the while, Scott, who played the role in the original Broadway production, shows off expert timing and nuance with every dry, wry line.

The 2018-2019 season at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre will offer "Hamilton" and several other currently running Broadway shows, including "Anastasia," "Come From Away" and "The Play That Goes Wrong"; return engagements for "Les Miserables" and "The Book of Mormon" are also on the lineup.

There are no weak links in the cast, which, directed by Wheeldon, moves fluently through Bob Crowley's imaginative, vibrant set (he also designed the expert costumes). Scene after scene is conjured up in clever, colorful fashion to give the production an almost cinematic sweep.

The score, featuring gem after gem from the incomparable catalog of George and Ira Gershwin, sounds quite fresh. And the solid pit orchestra of about a dozen players manages to serve up a good deal of texture (the jazziness in the sound often evokes 1920s and '30s arrangements of Gershwin's works).

This version of "An American in Paris," with its sophistication and style, makes for a disarming experience in the theater. It's a musical that treats you like an adult. These days, that means a lot.

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Relying on the program credits, an earlier version of this review misidentified the actor who performed the role of Jerry. Information on the cast change arrived later.

If you go

"An American in Paris" runs through May 6 at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. Tickets are $42 to $199. Call 800-982-2787, or go to ticketmaster.com.

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