BWW Interview: AN AMERICAN IN PARIS Company on Their Out-of-Town in Paris!
Screen Actors Guild Foundation and Broadway World have partnered for filmed Conversations Q&A series to recognize and celebrate the vibrant theatre community in New York City and the union actors who aspire to have a career on the stage and screen. The most recent conversation featured the company of the 12-time Tony nominated An American in Paris of (Christopher Wheeldon, Craig Lucas, Leanne Cope, Max von Essen, Veanne Cox, Brandon Uranowitz and producer Stuart Oken) moderated by BroadwayWorld's Richard Ridge, discussing how things are going at the Palace Theatre, how they used their time in Paris to their advantage, and so much more.
Find out what the cast and crew members took away from their experiences with the musical's out-of-town tryouts in Paris and check out the full interview on Sunday morning!
Richard Ridge: Your out-of-town tryout was Paris. I mean, Stuart, how did that all happen?
Stuart Oken: There was a producer in Paris named Jean-Luc Choplin who, at the same time my partner Van and I were chasing the rights to An American in Paris, was simultaneously trying to get it for a new production in Paris. Jean-luc runs a theatre called the Theatre du Chatelet, where, about ten years ago, when he went there, they began the first introduction of American musicals in English for the French audience. France, unlike most of Europe, which has, over the last 30 years, embraced the Broadway or West End musical - France had been kind of the last to the table. So they had never heard Sondheim, they never had Rodgers and Hammerstein there. And Jean-Luc decided he would introduce them and perform them in the language in which they were written. So, seven years after that, there was at least a small audience that was ready to - that was game for being able to engage with that process. And he had a similar idea that Van and I did, which was perhaps An American in Paris, having never been on stage, might be a great title for Paris. So, at the same time he and I were going off to get the rights separately, we got them, and then I was introduced to him, but it turned out I actually knew him. We worked together many years before, but I did not know that he was this person who was actually chasing the rights. So, long story short is, he said, "If you put this show together with the kind of artists that would be a good fit for us at Chatelet, come back to me." And right about the time of the reading that these guys were talking about, we were beginning to look for a home for our first production, because we really wanted to go somewhere before we came to New York, Jean-Luc read the treatment and he said, "You couldn't have hired anyone more perfect than Christopher Wheeldon, Craig Lucas, and Bob Crowley, and Tasha Katz." And that was it.
Christopher Wheeldon: Certainly, what better research, for all of us, than walking along the Seine to work every day and popping into a real boulangerie - not an Au Bon Pain, but a real one - and conversing with the locals. It was really amazing, although, for the most part, we spent most of our time in a darkened theatre, of course, because that's what happens during tech and previews. But, for me, it was very special. I danced as a 19 year-old at the Theatre du Chatelet with the New York City Ballet when I was still dancing, so I knew the boards, and it's really just the most magnificent old theatre. The Saison Russe famously had its first season there. The collaboration between Massine and Cocteau, Picasso - I mean, this is a really historical stage, so how thrilling for us to be presenting An American in Paris there first. And dinner break was amazing.
Richard Ridge: I can Imagine. Craig, for you, what you learned about the process of the show over there, in Paris
Craig Lucas: If you're used to New York theatre, Paris is not very helpful, because the audience pays very close attention, and they have boundless patience, and they love complexity, and they don't want to be spoon-fed. So, you don't learn what it's really like to play on Broadway, where the audience is going to run up the aisle to get their car, even though they loved it, and turn their back on the actors. So, I loved Paris. It was unbelievably great. You can see they sky, no one honks their horn, no one shouts move you mofo. It's a lovely, civilized dream of a place. And Broadway was a very big shock for grandpa. I liked Paris.
Richard Ridge: For the cast, being there, creating these roles in that environment - what it meant to the four of you
Leanne Cope: Obviously, playing a French character, it was pretty priceless research being there. I spent a lot of time sitting in cafes just watching the french women go about their business every day and they do - French women are very special - they have the "je ne sais quoi" - they have something that you just can't put your finger on, they have something about them. And to try and put that into Lise and learn from those women was amazing. And, you know, I got a chance to take ballet class at the Paris Opera while I was there, which was very scary and amazing at the same time, because an hour and a half later, I was on stage in the set that Bob Crowley had created, which was the studio I had just taken class in, which was pretty incredible. The Gallery Lafayette was just across the road. It was - as much as I could, I tried to live Lise's life. You know, we walked along the Champs Elysee, and almost chose a mansion that the Baurels would have lived in. So, it was the most special time. Also, it's terrible, I'm British, and Paris is so close, and I'd never been before, so to live there for two months was amazing.
Max von Essen: Yeah, I mean, it was surreal. It proved to be invaluable. I mean, who gets that opportunity to - we weren't trying out, you know, Guys and Dolls in Paris. We were doing An American in Paris in Paris. And what's still so unique about Paris and a lot of other European cities, unlike New York, which is an incredible city, but if you're in On The Town in New York, New York is not how it was in the year of On The Town in 19 - late 40s? Paris, you walk around central Paris, it's been zoned in a way, you can't just tear down a building, the facade, everything has to be rebuilt, renovated, restored, essentially. And as you walk around, and as I walked around, what I saw is what Henri Baurel would see. Like you were saying, I found this mansion in the 16th Arrondissement that immediately I connected to. These gorgeous arched French doors and this beautiful terrace, and when Lise and Jerry have this argument in Act II of our show, I'm not even seeing the palace, I'm seeing this home and this terrace, and imagining. And we - as actors, you're expected to do all of that work on your own and go to the library and get books, imagine your surroundings, your environment, what your home looks like - we just lived it. We saw it, we had it, we experienced it. Walking along the Seine on the cobblestone paths, it's probably the exact same cobblestone that Henri Baurel would have walked on, where she meets Jerry and he sketches her. It's the exact same location, it looks virtually the same. That's really magical. it was an incredible gift, surreal experience. Who - I've never had that. We'll all have great theatrical experiences in our futures, I'm sure, but this one is like this gem, this moment in our careers that will not be recreated. It's impossible.
Veanne Cox: What can I add? Well, I will say something about the fact that when we arrived there, much like Paris is a wonderful city of history and art and the melding of life and art, much like New York city, too - I won't take that away from it. You can't take that away from New York City either. But the Musee de Carnavalet, when we arrived, four days after we arrived, they opened up an exhibition of photographs and video from the Liberation, and it was there - we all went, and I remember walking through the rooms, thinking, "These are the images which I am going to utilize in my soul, in my cells. This is a gift from Paris." And I'm sure they didn't do it for us, but it seemed to be perfect timing to be able to educate us. So there was education everywhere. And in that specific instance, I found myself watching a video over and over that made me understand on a deeper level who my character was when I walked onto the stage, and what she had experienced. And so there was so much for us to pull from in Paris. And also utilizing observation of the Parisians and also because they have a sense of war in their cells. I think it's something that reveals itself. They're not even aware of it. But when you go over as an American, outside of 9/11, we have not experienced the war on our soil. And so there is something in their being that we were able to witness and participate in, even when they didn't know we were. It was very rich and very valuable. And, like you said, it may never happen again. So, it was truly wonderful. Brandon, on to you.
Brandon Uranowitz: Thank you Veanne. That was beautiful. I'm going to be perfectly frank. I was quite nervous to go over to Paris, actually. I was filled with a little trepidation. I - the political climate over there, particularly for the Jewish community, quite recently has been somewhat tumultuous. So I was a little bit nervous about going over there. Particularly in a sort of high profile project, playing a Jewish American at the time of World War II, I was a little bit fearful. What I didn't know was that it was this huge gift to have this sort of engendered fear in me that I could use onstage,. And luckily, once we got there, they welcomed us with the warmest, most open arms. I mean, it was the most beautiful response. And also, a lot of my character has written into him this acerbic, Jewish-American sharp wit. There's a quickness to him that is so American and so New York even. And I was worried that it just wouldn't land there. And we had the supertitles in French, so it landed, but it landed like two and a half seconds later, and that was an interesting obstacle too. But again, that fear of walking the streets and walking through the Ville de Temple, the sort of Jewish quarters, and there was an attack there a few days after we left. And so, to feel that, and to be able to bring that fear onstage, is sort of this truth and authenticity that you can't really make up. And, like everybody said, walking the streets and knowing that at this corner there was a blockade here, and the cobblestones were literally dug up at the time of the Liberation. It's a palpable, tangible thing. It's tangible research that you can't just get from a book or a documentary or something. You're living it. And it informs what we do onstage here as well. We took that experience and that authenticity and, I think, brought it to New York audiences who, as much as the wit and the dry humor that my character has that may not have landed for the French audience, there's certain - like you said, the war is in their cells, their blood. The occupation is something that lives deep inside of them - that may not necessarily land as well for a New York audience. So that authenticity we can give to Broadway, which I think is - it was just a gift through and through, I think.
The new Broadway musical An American in Paris opened on Sunday, April 12, 2015 at the Palace Theatre (Broadway at 47th Street). Directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, it is inspired by the Academy-Award winning film. An American in Paris brings this classic tale to Broadway for the first time with music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin and a book by Tony nominee and Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Lucas.
An American In Paris is the romantic story of a young American soldier, a beautiful French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war.
The cast of An American in Paris includes Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan, Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin,Veanne Cox as Madame Baurel, Jill Paice as Milo Davenport, Brandon Uranowitz as Adam Hochberg, and Max von Essen as Henri Baurel.
The score of An American in Paris includes the songs "I Got Rhythm," "Liza," "'S Wonderful," "But Not For Me," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," and orchestral music including "Concerto in F," "Second Prelude," "Second Rhapsody/Cuban Overture" and "An American In Paris."