Monday, 30 October 2017 14:43

Turn On the Lights: 'An American in Paris' explores love, healing after tragedy

Written by  Kayla Tucker
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Nick Spangler and the An American in Paris Touring Company. Nick Spangler and the An American in Paris Touring Company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Full of romance, dancing and drama, An American in Paris is set in the city of love at the end of World War II. The city is coming back to life, and so are the people and the romances between them.

Teri Hansen, who plays Madame Baurel, described the Tony Award-winning show as “iconic.” Hansen will perform in the show when it arrives this month at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center.

“It’s a night of romance and hope, really, and an evening of people finding their way back to themselves after World War II … in a journey of love and light,” Hansen said. “Not only in relationships, but also the relationship with Paris herself.”

Madame Baurel is one of a few characters who transform throughout the play.

“She is one of the linchpins of the show,” Hansen said. “She was a part of the resistance in Paris during World War II. Of course, Paris was occupied by the Nazis for four years, so the city of light went dark during those four years.”

People were living under martial law, Hansen said, and they lived off rationed food. Thousands of Jewish people were taken out of Paris and sent to Germany.

“This was a really dismal and bleak time for that wonderful city,” Hansen said. “What Paris herself was going through is really analogous to what my character goes through, which is a woman who has been surviving in the darkness for four years during the occupation, worried about her son, worried about her family, worried about her friends, concerned about the city which she loves so well.”

The play takes place a few months after the liberation and displays a time of positive change for the people and the city.

“It’s flickering with light again,” Hansen said. “It’s coming back to life. It’s finding itself again in this season of liberation, and that is the same experience that Madame Baurel is going through.”

Having been on many stages over the years and in many roles since the age of 16, Hansen appreciates her unique career and experience.

“As an actor, you’re presented with an opportunity to experience the world from someone else’s point of view and be able to tell their story,” Hansen said. “I love playing Madame Baurel because she’s a woman in conflict. She’s still got a foot in this era where everything had to be controlled, everything had to be suspect, you had to take great care just to survive the everyday. And then her other foot is in a world prior to the occupation, where she was a loving mother and wife, and supported the ballet and lived this wonderful artistic life.”

Art is another major theme within the show, enhanced by the dazzle of Paris. The characters are all artists in some way, whether as a painter, dancer or composer.

Hansen described Madame Baurel as a “female entrepreneur who is collecting all of these forces to bring art and light back to Paris.” Hansen herself is a Michigan native, having attended Central Michigan University after growing up outside of Detroit.

Every aspect of the show has its own unique artistic flair, from the choreography to the music to the costumes and sets. The music is collected from various sources of the George and Ira Gershwin catalog. The choreography, by Christopher Wheeldon, is varied as well.

“We’ve got this huge tap number, we’ve got ballet, we’ve got very traditional Broadway dance, and it is absolutely perfection,” Hansen said. “I am in the wings every night just dumbstruck by the perfection, really almost Olympic level, of dancing.”

Hansen said anyone will enjoy the story, whether you’re a regular theater enthusiast or it’s your first time.

“You want to inspire the audience, and this show certainly doesn’t fail to deliver that,” Hansen said. “The theater is a place that we go to in order to escape reality, and the message of the show is love and light, and healing. People are lifted up, not only by the music and the dance, but they’re lifted up by these characters’ transformations from darkness into light.”

An American in Paris
MSU Wharton Center for Performing Arts
750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing
Nov. 14-19, $43
whartoncenter.com

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