Taking an unexpected leap, dancer Allison Walsh gracefully transitioned from ballet to Broadway when she joined the cast of “An American in Paris,” the 2015 Tony Award-winning musical adapted from the classic Gershwin-inspired film.
After making her bones with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, Walsh landed a role in the ensemble of “An American in Paris,” understudying the lead role of Lise Dassin and eventually moving up to alternate performer, playing the role twice a week on Broadway. Now she’s officially a leading lady, starring in the touring production of “An American in Paris” that runs Jan. 30 through Feb. 4 at the Saenger Theatre as part of the East Jefferson General Hospital Broadway in New Orleans series.
“I had a full career as a ballet dancer, but was kind of seeking something more, and this pivot to musical theater really felt organic and really right,” Walsh explained. “Once I was a part of this world, I realized it actually was the perfect fit for me.”
“An American in Paris” follows the exploits of Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox), an American GI in postwar Paris who decides to hang around Europe and pursue his passion for painting. He falls hard for a Parisian ballet dancer (Walsh), only to discover that he’s not the only one vying for her attention, kicking off an entanglement of young artists that includes an American composer (Matthew Scott) and a budding French cabaret performer (Ben Michael).
The score includes more than a dozen songs by George and Ira Gershwin, including “I’ve Got Rhythm,” “‘S Wonderful” and the big orchestral ballet number “An American in Paris.”
With the dramatic backdrop of a newly liberated Paris, Walsh says the musical evokes a darker tone than the more carefree film.
“One of the show’s first big images is the Nazi flag being torn down,” Walsh points out. “It puts you in a place where all the characters are coming out of the darkness of this period and trying to find their footing. They’re all young, and they’re trying to figure out how to live life as Paris is being literally rebuilt.”
Walsh credits director and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and book writer Craig Lucas with creating a narrative that seamlessly incorporates elegant dance sequences and complex characters.
“She has a tragic past,” said Walsh, describing her character as more than just an object of desire. “She has a secret she’s holding. She can’t express her emotions so much out loud, but she’s able to express herself completely through dance.”
With its iconic music, “visually stunning” sets by designer Bob Crowley, and a mix of ballet, tap, and contemporary jazz movement, Walsh said “An American in Paris” was an ideal launching point for her career in musical theater.
After the original Broadway production closed in 2016, she landed a part in the Broadway musical “Anastasia” (a show that also incorporates a significant amount of ballet and includes a Paris setting) before being tapped to lead the touring production of “An American Paris.”
When the tour wraps up later this year, Walsh is prepared to contend with the pas de deux of excitement and uncertainty that comes with trying to make a living on stage.
“I’ve discovered that I love acting, and I’d love to pursue it,” she said. “We’ll see what opportunities unfold from the tour and where it leads me next.”
WHEN: Jan. 30-Feb. 4
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal St.
TICKETS: Staring at $30
INFO: www.BroadwayInNewOrleans.com or (800) 982-2787