Anuj Mishra: For our readers who aren’t so familiar with the show, could you give us an outline of where we find ourselves in An American in Paris?
Ollie: The scene is set in the chaotic and vibrant world of post-War Paris: American soldiers and Parisians are trying to build their lives. We meet Jerry Mulligan, a young GI soldier, who falls in love with a French ballerina, but there are many more complications along the way… The show portrays a world trying to understand what it means to be liberated, and moves towards the future after so much conflict.
How did you respond to the challenge of attempting to reinvent such a well-known and well-loved musical production?
Ollie: An American in Paris is a huge show, and it is such a spectacle, but there is also a fantastic story of love and liberation at the centre of it, which has been fantastic to re-explore. At the same time, the show also presents these massive choreographic challenges, which are something that Oxford student drama doesn’t always necessarily have to deal with – so it has been such an exciting challenge as well as being a great opportunity to showcase the dance talent we have here.
The score is so unlike other musicals in that it is so whimsical and fantastical. Jake Sternberg, our musical director, has done a fantastic job with our band – a 20-piece orchestra which will be on stage alongside the dancers, which should really allow us to showcase this union of dance, music, and story.
Cormac: I’d say that my original conception of the show was very ballet-heavy, and some people may have this image of An American in Paris as being like a static series of beautiful images. But I think at the core of this production lies the humanity of all the characters, which is really brought to life by the acting and song and dance.
Is there anything that you would say drew you to directing this show?
Ollie: I saw a West End production of the show and it screamed spectacle – but revisiting the show has, personally, been a really fun chance to explore the story and understand what it means to perform it now. It’s been a process of figuring out how we can tease out those themes of love and liberation: fighting for love and for self-expression, how do you love other people in the million meanings that ‘love’ has. We’re not just restaging the show, but reviving it. Even with the choreography we’re trying to shake it up a bit, with some tap, some jazz, some ballroom as well!
How has learning so much choreography, alongside the script, been for you both?
Molly: Terrifying! I’ve always described myself as an actor-singer, not a dancer, so it has been very daunting to rise to the challenge. Cam Tweed is fantastic as a choreographer and he brings so much joy to the show, it’s been fabulous to work with him and all the other dancers as well. I saw a West End production of An American in Paris in 2017 and don’t remember much from it – apart from the dance. It’s been great to revisit the show and realise that there is such a rich narrative at the centre of it.
Are there any cast-favourite lines or scenes?
Cormac: We’ve been enjoying our scenes as the central trio of mischievous young men out on the Paris town, the writing is very funny and light, as well as dramatic when it needs to be. There are so many jazz standards and favourites, so its been really fun to sing as a trio, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” has probably been my favourite song.
What can audiences expect from this production of An American in Paris?
Cormac: I think audiences can expect to be surprised by how much relevance they find with it. It’s not a cold product of ‘40s beauty, but, as tiring as a pandemic comparison is, I find the idea of a story following many confused people trying to shape their own identity relatable. I know that, even from my experience from first year of having come to Oxford just after lockdown, there is a commonality in this idea of people working on how to love, and express themselves between the post-War period and now.
Any final thoughts you would like to add?
Molly: Performing in The Oxford Playhouse is always so exciting because for a week, or two, you get to feel like a professional, which is really exciting. The Playhouse offers so many possibilities with light and sound in such a large space. An American in Paris is very much like an ensemble piece, there are lots of different stories and ideas of love which are weaved into and explored by the story.
Cormac: The Playhouse has also offered us the possibility of representing Paris on such a large scale. Take, for example, the band, which is huge, and potentially bigger than what you would see on the West End.
Ollie: The crew have also been fantastic, we have over a hundred people working on the show and it’s been wonderful to be supported by such a huge crew, a huge band, and a huge cast as well.
00Productions’ An American in Paris will run at The Oxford Playhouse between the 15th and 18th of February. Tickets are now on sale.