The romantic allure of Paris has been celebrated in many art forms over the years. One of the best examples from popular culture was the 1951 film starring Gene Kelly as a would-be painter ready to dance and sing at the drop of a hat as he explored life in the City of Light.

The award-winning musical theater version of “An American in Paris” brought all the excitement back a few years ago. And now, the first U.S. regional production of the show, directed and choreographed by Jeffry Denman, has opened at the Ogunquit Playhouse.

Featuring well over a dozen songs by George and Ira Gershwin and showcasing a variety of dance styles, this show ranks as one of the more sophisticated to grace the Ogunquit stage in recent years. But there’s also enough old-fashioned humor to make it entertainment that succeeds on just about every level.

The Craig Lucas-penned book quickly establishes the historical context of post-World War II Paris, beleaguered by years of Nazi occupation and trying to reestablish its pre-war gaiety. Of course, romance always helps, and two former American GIs and a French friend soon find themselves vying for the affections of a beautiful aspiring ballerina with a mysterious wartime past.

The quieter moments of dramatic exposition, particularly in the first act, seemed a bit choppy on Saturday. But the show soon found its pace as numbers such as “I Got Rhythm” and “S’Wonderful” proved captivating.

Clyde Alves takes the lead role of Jerry Mulligan, the painter who can’t get the lovely Lise, played by Julie Eicher, out of his mind. Alves establishes his brash young American as the sort of freewheeling force that could almost revive Europe singlehandedly with his ready smile and assertive charm.

Alves’ talents are best utilized on light, comic pieces such as “I’ve Got Beginner’s Luck” and “Fidgety Feet,” the latter an excellent, off-kilter number that brings the ensemble of able dancers into the wacky mix. Alves taps up a storm and later shows his skills in ballet.

Clyde Alves and Julie Eicher are captivating as Jerry Mulligan and Lise in “An American in Paris.”

Eicher establishes her character’s emerging passion as her obligations to the past give way to the fresh possibilities of the moment. Her hesitant search for “The Man I Love” blossoms eventually into a mesmerizing ballet sequence that artistically captures the spirit of the new day.

Secondary roles provide some spirited comic relief. Jeremy Greenbaum’s Adam, a Gershwin-like composer who narrates some of the action, twists his Brooklyn accent around several funny lines as he pursues Lise. His vocal on “But Not for Me,” conversely, is quite touching.

Stephen Brower plays the smitten Henri, whose song and dance number promises “(I’ll Build a) Stairway to Paradise” in one of the musical’s more glittery pieces. Joanna Glushak works for laughs as Henri’s old-school mom, while Laurie Wells gradually reveals her brassy heiress to have a heart of gold in such songs as “Shall We Dance” and “Who Cares.”

Accompaniment from a small ensemble, under the direction of David Lamoureaux, doesn’t quite approach the full orchestral potential of Gershwin’s music, but it hits all the marks in lifting the ballet sequences high. Projections on backdrops, reflecting set pieces and a revolving stage give an important magical feel to the show.

At the close, the three male leads sing of their experiences in “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.” Memories of old movies, foreign adventures and incandescent romances are indeed held dear by this highly entertaining musical.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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