It was Gene Kelly who first swept audiences away to post-occupation Paris. His character Jerry, a former American soldier, finds romance and beauty when he decides to stick around the city of lights following World War II. The musical extravaganza "An American in Paris," based on George Gershwin’s 1928 score of the same name, was made for the silver screen in 1951, but naturally found a home on stage when Craig Lucas adapted the production for Broadway’s Palace Theatre in 2015. The Tony-winning show now hits the road, as part of a national tour kicking off in Boston this month. We chat with actor Nick Spangler, who plays Henri Baurel — Jerry's romantic rival and a Parisian aristocrat, whose depth, bravery and goodness lie beneath his fanciful layers.
Can we talk about Henri? His role in the stage production changes drastically from who he originally is in the film.
Yes, it’s a much bigger role [on stage] than it is in the movie. He’s more central to the love square — three men and one woman. Henri is more fleshed out in the show. You get an understanding of why there’s a deep love [between Lise Dassin and him] and why it’s so hard for him to accept her not loving him back.
Most of the choreography in the film and Broadway productions is heavily influenced by ballet. What was that like for you as a performer? Was it an intimating show to come into?
The majority of the company are ballerinas. We have 25 to 30 people who have danced professionally — with the New York City Ballet or the Miami Ballet — for dozens of years. I’m certainly not one of those people. [Laughs] I grew up with traditional jazzy musical choreography. It was definitely scary, but some of the dancers also don’t have the 15 years of singing and acting experience I’ve had. We come from different worlds, and the show unites us both. It’s been a cool process to share knowledge between us.
So we need to address this — you won “The Amazing Race” in 2008, do you think that’s helped your stage career at all?
We’ve been actually watching my season backstage right now. [Laughs] We’re watching it during our dinner break on a projector in the dressing rooms. My season was eight years ago now, so I’m of a bygone era. It hasn’t had a huge impact on my career because it wasn’t a talent-based reality show, like “The Voice” or “So You Think You Can Dance.”
But it’s worked in my favor because directors and casting directors apparently love watching the show because it has nothing to do with their worlds. When I did “Giant,” I walked into the music room and [lyricist/composer] Michael John LaChiusawas sitting there at the table. Before anyone said anything, he was like, “I am your biggest fan.” And I was “I’m your biggest fan.” That’s a great way to start an audition.
Is there pressure to fulfill that nostalgic element for people who remember the film version of “An American in Paris,” while also appealing to new, younger audiences?
The show itself, beyond my cast, is such an incredible piece of theater. It’s a period piece, like “Downton Abbey,” where it’s rooted in a timeframe, but is also contemporary in the way we deliver the script to the audience. They completely rewrote the script from the movie, and it’s so funny and poignant, but also dark and serious at the same time. We take audience members into the dark place Paris was coming out of at the end of four years of occupation. They didn’t paid broad strokes, but instead showed what Parisians were really going through at that time.
If you go:
Oct. 25 to Nov. 6
Citi Wang Theatre
270 Tremont St., Boston
Tickets start at $45, citicenter.org