A romantic story about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of the war.
That’s what sets the scene for Broadway Austin’s final production of the 2017-18 season. ‘An American in Paris’ runs May 30 – June 3 at Bass Concert Hall. A newer musical, ‘An American in Paris’ debuted in April 2015 after a world premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. With musical hits ‘I Got Rhythm,’ ‘But Not for Me’ and ‘Build a Stairway to Paradise,’ this is the first time the musical will be seen in Austin. Directed and choreographed by 2015 Tony Award-winner, Christopher Wheeldon, the show features the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, and a book by Craig Lucas.
The musical is already the winner of four Tony Awards, four Drama Desk Awards, four Outer Critics Circle Awards, the Drama League Award for Musical, three Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, and two Theatre World Awards. Ahead of its Austin debut, we spoke with Ben Michael who plays Henri Baurel.
Your character really stands out in the musical for his confident personality. Can you tell us a little bit about that and what it’s like to play Henri Baurel?
Henri’s confidence comes from a strong moral compass. He knows what he thinks is right, like music being used to make people happy, and he will do what is right no matter what. He recognizes how horrible the war was for everyone, and he just wants to do what he can to make people happy and help pull them up out of the mire without asking for anything in return. Getting to be immersed in his particular brand of positivity—which is rooted in something so much deeper—every night is really amazing. I got into this business to bring joy and happiness to people, and that’s what Henri is all about.
Without giving away any spoilers, tell us a little more about the storyline between Henri and Lise. Do you think there’s an overall message there for society today?
Without spoilers? That’s a tough one, but I’ll try. Their parents knew each other thanks to the ballet and other work ventures, so Henri and Lise have known each other a long time. Naturally, he has fallen in love with her, and would do absolutely anything for her. Sometimes, however, that undying devotion can cloud his judgment. Their relationship has a message for every society, whether it be today, 50 years ago, or 50 years from now. Having a strong love and bond means a lot, but you can’t have blinders on and not think about how that love and bond will affect the other person.
Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, this particular musical has a focus in ballet. Are most of the cast dancers? How does this differ from other musicals that you’ve starred in?
Most of the cast are dancers, yes! Many come from a strictly dance background, and this is even the first musical theater show for some of them. This is very different from other shows I’ve been in, but it’s amazing. Because we all have our different strengths , we like to say that at some point during the show, each person is humbled in some way. To see what these dancers do night in and night out is truly a marvel.
What’s your favorite scene or song in the play?
“I’ve Got Rhythm” has to be at the top of the list. It comes straight out of the darkness of the war and the beauty of the opening ballet and is quintessential Henri. Everyone has been through horrible times, but thanks to Henri and the song, they’re able to come out of the darkness for a night and see that happiness after a horrendous time is indeed possible.
Why should our readers come out and see you in ‘An American in Paris’ at Bass Concert Hall?
It is one of the most visually stunning shows I’ve ever been a part of. The design and choreography are second to none. It’s the type of show where you’re really able to step into a different world and forget about everything else for a night. There truly is something in it for everyone, so everyone should come and see it!
‘An American in Paris’ runs May 30 – June 3 at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall. Cover photo by Matthew Murphy.