During introductory remarks at Saturday’s performance of the world premiere of “An American in Paris Live!,” Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Principal Pops conductor Jack Everly made an exciting revelation. He said that the long lost orchestration of the 1951 musical film score had finally been located making it possible for the ISO to be the very first symphony orchestra to perform composer George Gershwin‘s music live and then make it available to orchestras, worldwide, to follow suit.
Directed by Vincente Minnelli, from a script by by Alan Jay Lerner, “An American in Paris” stars Gene Kelly as a former American GI , Jerry Mulligan, who falls in love with Parisian Leslie Caron as Lise. Intertwined throughout the romantic plot are the iconic songs of composer George and lyricist Ira Gershwin, including: “Embraceable You,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” “I Got Rhythm,” “’S Wonderful” and “Love is Here to Stay.” Also appearing in the film which captures the essence of Paris in the ealy 50s is Oscar Levant, Georges Guetary, and Nina Foch.
Surprisingly, I realized, as the film progressed, that I had not seen the film previously. Over the years I have viewed film clips so often that I convinced myself that I had seen it in its entirely. Consequently, I was pleased to know that I was seeing it with fresh eye and hearing the score played live by the ISO with it, was a sumptuous added treat, indeed.
I have been fortunate to have seen previous Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Printing Partners Pop Series film presentations such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “West Side Story,” “Casablanca” and last season’s “North by Northwest,” so I knew what to expect in terms of watching a film while the score is played live. And just as I did during the aforementioned films, except for those occasional times when my eyes would drift down to watch the musicians, my focus was always on the movie itself. The complete presentation, facilitated by conductor Everly who led the ISO while taking his cues from a click track and the film on monitors placed in front of him, was seamless.
Without a doubt, two of my favorite scenes in the film was one in which Levant as pianist/composer Adam, daydreams that he is performing Gershwin’s Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra for a concert hall audience. During the sequence, Adam is also the conductor, various musicians in the orchestra, and even an audience member who applauds wildly at the end. The other was the 17-minute spectacle, “An American in Paris Ballet,” during which Jerry daydreams about being with Lise all over Paris, as they dance to George Gershwin’s jazz-influenced symphonic poem, “An American in Paris.” Both were thoroughly enhanced by the live performance of the always stellar ISO.
In the wake of the success of “La La Land,” the 2016 American musical romantic comedy-drama film, that recently won five Academy Awards, it was especially gratifying to experience this primary source of writer and director Damien Chazelle’s inspiration. It was a reminder that, especially during these times of ferment and strife, there is still nothing like a movie musical extravaganza to help one escape our planet’s harsh realities.
For tickets and information about the 2017-2018 Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra season call the Hilbert Circle Theater ticket office (317) 639-4300 or visit indianapolissymphony.org.