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By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
Inspired by the classic 1951 Academy Award film An American in Paris, Christopher Wheeldon’s Tony-winning musical of the same name will be on stage at The Providence Performing Arts Center March 13-18, 2018.
Starring in the production as Madame Baurel is Teri Hansen, whose biography mentions international recognition for her crossover abilities as a singer who also acts. She recently completed the North American tour of The Sound of Music (2015-2017) and also appeared as a guest star in Season Four of the TV series Orange is the New Black.
An American in Paris features the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin and a book by Craig Lucas. Among the famous songs in the score are “I Got Rhythm,” “Liza,” “’S Wonderful,” and “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.”
“The tour is fantastic,” Ms. Hansen told The Smithfield Times during a telephone interview from Fayetteville, Arkansas last month. “I’ve been singing Gershwin for years,” she added. “It’s 100 years since they began, and their music is still so wonderful,” she commented, noting ironically that she doesn’t sing in the role of Madame Baurel.
She likens the part to “the wizard behind the curtain,” saying, “she makes all the pieces move.”
Set in Paris right after World War II, the story deals with a trio of men, two American veterans, one a composer, the other an artist, and a French resistance fighter, who become friends. Unknowingly they are pursuing the same young woman, Lise.
The interaction among them is complex. Their attitudes reflect the turmoil and hardship of the war and how it has shaped their motivations and behaviors.
France has endured an oppressive Nazi occupation, and the City of Paris is struggling to emerge from its effects. The three men are consumed by their need to experience a renewal of spirit through their art at the same time Paris is fighting its way out of the dolor of the war.
One complication that figures into the love quadrangle is the fact that Henri, a secret member of the French resistance, is the son of an industrialist couple (the Baurels) who want him to inherit their business and lead a secure life.
The Baurels have endured both World War I and World War II and were also part of the resistance. Madame Baurel disapproves of her son’s plan to become an entertainer. So, she attempts to make sure he chooses the path that she and her husband envision for him.
Their attitudes provide a good part of the conflict in the story. The question of who is best suited to win Lise’s heart supplies the rest.
“Parisians were denied many of the arts. They couldn’t listen to jazz. The Nazis had stolen a good part of their artwork. They were living in the dark, dealing with food rationing,” explains Ms. Hansen.
“The City of Light, which had gone dark, was coming back to life,” she continued. “Madame Baurel has been so disillusioned by the war that she is trying to control her son to protect him.” The action of the show supplies the learning process she and her husband must go through to let their son live his own life.
Internationally recognized as an interpreter of Kurt Weill, Ms. Hansen began her career as “Rose” in the award-winning film version of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene on Bravo, and for the premiere production in Berlin directed by Francesca Zambello. She made her Broadway debut in The Boys From Syracuse and starred in the Broadway National tours of The Music Man, Camelot, and Show Boat.
Ms. Hansen also has appeared with symphony orchestras around the world, including locally with the Boston Pops and the Rhode Island Philharmonic. She has toured nationwide with Marvin Hamlisch.
“Providence is wonderful,” she says with enthusiasm. “I was in The Sound of Music in Providence.”
Asked whether her part in An American in Paris requires her to speak with a French accent, she laughs, says “mais oui,” and closes the conversation with a burst of perfectly executed French, a good deal of which proves to be beyond the high school variety possessed by her interviewer.
For more information and tickets call PPAC at 401-421-2787.