Song and Step Romance
Whether you want to experience the enchantment of dance or just experience an imaginary trip to post-World War II Paris, "An American in Paris" underscores the correlation of success and sacrifice.
What happens when two friends post-WW II — an ex-military American following his dream to become a painter and an out-of-work concert pianist — fall in love with the same French girl yearning for her own fresh start yet obligated to a man she feels indebted to? You get An American in Paris, a timeless love story surrounded by enchanting music, breathtaking dancing and a trip to Paris.
The touring theatrical performance of An American in Paris, inspired by the 1951 musical starring Gene Kelly, may not be your typical Broadway show; in fact, it offers more. It’s the vision of 2015 Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon that has redefined the modern Broadway musical, making the dance aspect an integral part of the story.
“In traditional musicals, dance is superfluous,” says Christopher Howard, who supervises the dance numbers as dance captain as well as understudies for Henri Baurel and other characters. “We sing, we dance, we act to tell a story, but we don’t always think about the way our bodies move to tell our stories.”
While there are many different forms of dance in An American in Paris, with Wheeldon’s background in ballet, the story comes alive through his choreography. “He’s unbelievably brilliant in the way he uses movement,” says Howard. “Every movement has a meaning behind it. Even if you’re not a dance person, the story is very clear.”
Little vignettes of dance transition the story from one place to another as well as assist in building characters and furthering the plot.
“The dancers move 95 percent of the set pieces, and we’re not just a moving company,” says Howard. “All the set changes and transitions are choreographed so the audience gets lost in the choreography. They don’t even realize the set changes are happening. This has really never been done before in a musical.”
While all the styles of dance are breathtaking and the familiar Gershwin music, though rearranged brilliantly, still enchants today’s audiences like it did back in 1951, the Broadway version of An American in Paris takes the audiences deeper into what it was really like after WW II.
“It’s not the Hollywood glitz and glamour love story,” says Howard. “The story is true to what they would have experienced right after the war.” It’s a story about starting over, following your dreams, sacrificing and love.
“Each character has their own dream and passion,” says Howard. “Everyone can relate and everyone can find themselves in each of the characters.”
While Howard fills in for several dancers when they are sick or on vacation, it is the ballerina, Lise Dassin, he most identifies with and her dream of wanting to become a professional dancer. “I didn’t realize dance was something I wanted to do until I was older,” says Howard. Growing up in New York, Howard had a love of singing and acting, but he didn’t start dancing until 18 years old, thinking dancing was silly.
Yet, while attending University at Buffalo he had to take basic dance and though he didn’t like it and he wasn’t good at it, in order to achieve his dream of performing he knew he had to excel. “I knew it was going to take a lot of fine tuning and athletic training to make it happen,” says Howard. “But five years later I came out a dancer.”
Howard had to overcome hardships and sacrifice things he loved to pursue a career in dance, but it was worth it.
“I got a lot of negative feedback in college,” says Howard. “They said I wasn’t good and I had a lot of personal strife, but I kept working.” Howard knew most dancers who start late don’t get to a level where they can dance professionally, so he used the criticism to fuel his passion and work ethic.
“This was something that I wanted, and I wasn’t letting anyone stand in my way,” says Howard.
Thankfully, it worked out for Howard. And though he doesn’t want to give away the ending of An American in Paris, Howard reveals that all the characters have to make sacrifices to follow their dreams. Jerry Mulligan must decide if his love for Lise is greater than his desire to be a successful artist which Milo Davenport, a wealthy society woman, can achieve for him. And Lise has to decide if her love for Jerry is stronger than her obligation to Henri Baurel.
“Every character in the show has successes and validations by the end, but everyone, even the most successful characters, needs to give up something to get what they want,” says Howard. “I think it’s a great life lesson. There are going to be sacrifices along your path to following your dreams and sometimes you don’t always reach the ultimate dream you have and that’s OK too.”
An American in Paris
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
110 E. 2nd St. | Tulsa
June 19-21: 7:30 p.m.
June 22: 8 p.m.
June 23: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
June 24: 2 p.m., 7 p.m.
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