‘An American in Paris,’ inspiration for ‘La La Land,’ comes to Grand Rapids Pops stage, Nov. 10-12

Media Contact
Jennifer Collard
Public Relations Intern
616.454.9451 ext. 139

GRAND RAPIDS, MI., October, 25, 2017 – In An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, the worlds of symphonic music, dance, and fine art collide into a romantic love story that ushered in the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals.      

The film, which won the 1952 Academy Award for Best Picture, launched more than a decade’s worth of well-known musicals, from the self-aware Singing in the Rain, to the edgy and angular West Side Story, to the beloved family classic, The Sound of Music

Damien Chazelle, director of the award-winning La La Land, admitted that he “pillaged” from An American in Paris to make his 2016 box-office hit come to life. “An American in Paris is such a stunner,” Chazelle explains. “It’s an awesome example of how daring some of those old musicals really were. It’s incredible that it ever got made, let alone that it won best picture.” 

Grand Rapids Pops  presents An American in Paris with a full-length screening of the entire movie, coupled with a live performance by the Grand Rapids Symphony. 

Part of the Fox Motors Pops series, the show features the film projected onto a 40-foot screen above the orchestra while musicians play the iconic film score with the music of George Gershwin.     

An American in Paris will be presented November 10-12 in DeVos Performance Hall, 303 Monroe Ave. NW. Shows are at 8pm Friday and Saturday, and at 3pm on Sunday. Tickets start at $18. 

In the film, the optimism, excitement, and rhythmic punch of Gershwin’s music help revive the transcendent beauty of Paris, a city brought low through the devastation of World War II. In many ways, An American in Paris is the response to the grief caused by WWII – the longing for love, the joyful gratitude for life, coupled with the tangible cityscapes all expressed with Gershwin’s music. 

Directed by Vincente Minnelli, the 1951 film that also starred Oscar Levant debuted to both critical and box office success. In it, Jerry (played by Gene Kelly) is an ex-GI in Paris, attempting to become a successful painter, while falling in love with Lise (played by Leslie Caron), a shop girl in the City of Light.

Associate Conductor John Varineau returns for his 33rd year on the podium for the Grand Rapids Symphony to lead the orchestra through the musical genius of George and Ira Gershwin with songs including Embraceable You, Our Love is Here to Stay, and I Got Rhythm, plus the nearly 20-minute-long ballet piece, An American in Paris.  

George Gershwin’s orchestral piece of the same name inspired the film. Described as a “jaunty, jazzy symphonic poem,” by the New York Times, the rhapsodic ballet captures the kinetic energy of Paris with its soaring melody lines, evocative city-street sounds, and quiet moments of reverie.  

It is Paris as seen through Gershwin’s American eyes and jazz-flavored sensibilities that makes this piece so special. 

Paired with the incomparable choreography and dancing of Gene Kelly and the graceful lilt of Leslie Caron, the final 20 minutes of the film are a dance sequence regarded by audiences and critics alike as a true masterpiece.  

That creative decision, considered risky even by Gene Kelly and Vincente Minnelli, proved to inspire six decades of audiences and artists. 

Derek Hough, of NBC’s World of Dance and formerly of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars explains: “That scene is the difference between the sexual and the sensual. When I’m watching Gene Kelly it doesn’t feel like he’s in an older film. That charm and athleticism feels like now.”  

Damien Chazelle sums it up: “That finale is completely experimental, avant-garde filmmaking. Nothing but Gershwin, Gene Kelly, and painted sets. You look at that and you realize how daring the film was.” 

With over a dozen of Gershwin’s songs performed by the Grand Rapids Symphony driving the experience, come see An American in Paris from November 10-12.   


Tickets start at $18 and are available at the GRS ticket office, weekdays 9 am-5 pm at 300 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 100, (located across from the Calder Plaza), or by calling 616.454.9451 x 4. (Phone orders will be charged a $2 per ticket service fee, with a $12 maximum.)

Tickets are available at the DeVos Place box office, weekdays 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. or on the day of the concert beginning two hours prior to the performance. Tickets also may be purchased online at GRSymphony.org.

Full-time students of any age are able to purchase tickets for only $5 on the night of the concert by enrolling in the GRS Student Tickets program, sponsored by Comerica and Calvin College. This is a MySymphony360 eligible concert.

About the Grand Rapids Symphony

Organized in 1930, the Grand Rapids Symphony is nationally recognized for the quality of its concerts and educational programs. Led by Music Director Marcelo Lehninger, Principal Pops Conductor Bob Bernhardt and Associate Conductor John Varineau, nine concert series are presented, featuring a wide range of music and performance styles. More than 400 performances are given each year, touching the lives of some 200,000, nearly half of whom are students, senior citizens and people with disabilities all reached through extensive education and community service programs. Affiliated organizations include the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus; Grand Rapids Youth Symphony and Classical Orchestra; and Grand Rapids Symphony Youth Choruses. GRS provides the orchestra for performances by Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Ballet and sponsors the biennial Grand Rapids Bach Festival, which was held in March 2017 and returns in 2019.

To learn more about the Grand Rapids Symphony, please visit the website or

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This activity is supported in part by an award from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.