An American in Paris springs from George Gershwin's classic movie musical. Dance numbers were choreographed by Gene Kelly originally, and he also starred as a World War II veteran named Jerry Mulligan. His character attempts to sell his paintings in Paris, where he meets a girl named Lise Dassin and falls in love. He pursues her in a series of adventures that lead to a huge ballet finale.
For the first time, Chicago audiences are treated to a touring version of An American in Paris. This Tony winner opened the tour last year and hits the Oriental Theatre July 25-Aug. 13. It is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, with a book by Craig Lucas.
Tom Mattingly plays several roles, such as understudying Lise's ballet partner, among others. He joined Visceral Dance Chicago in 2014 and has spent a great deal of time in Chicago before landing this gig.
Windy City Times: Hi, Tom. Where are you from, originally?
Tom Mattingly: I was born in Sidney, Montana. I grew up in the California desert, near Death Valley.
WCT: How did you wind up in Chicago?
TM: Originally, I was a ballet dancer. I had danced for a couple of companies, but mainly for Ballet West in Salt Lake City. I was a principal dancer there. I did everything that I set out to do in the ballet world. I was looking for what was next. I had visited Chicago a couple of times with the ballet company, and fell in love with the city. I knew there was a lot of opportunity for dance there.
I decided to pack up and move with no job yet. I trusted I would make it happen, and it happened!
WCT: Did you always want to be a dancer?
TM: Ever since I was a little kid. When I was 9 years old, I realized it could be a career. I made that my goal.
WCT: Then musical theater was the next step?
TM: Yes. I was friends with a cast member of American in Paris, from the original Broadway production. The show had always been on my radar, but I didn't think with being a ballet dancer, and having no experience in musical theater that I would stand a chance. He encouraged me anyways to try out and if they saw potential in me I could possibly be cast.
WCT: You were eventually cast in multiple roles?
TM: Yes. I am a swing. I am basically a universal understudy. I have five different men in the ensemble that I have to know all of their parts. We call them tracks in musical theater. I know five tracks so I can go in at any given time if someone is sick or on vacation.
WCT: Is that confusing with all the different parts?
TM: It can be. There are times I have to remind myself that I am Ryan Steele, not Lucas Segovia. There are times where I have done three different tracks in one week.
WCT: What are the different roles?
TM: It is a full range from a returning American soldier, French soldier, townsperson or a shop boy. There is one track where I am the ballet dancer for the female lead, Lise Dassin. Each track has 10 to 15 characters within the show. It makes it feel like a huge group of people when in reality it is 25 people onstage every night, because we do so many different things.
WCT: Talk about the show for people that have not seen it.
TM: It is inspired by the classic Hollywood movie starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. It has been adapted a bit for the stage. It is about an American soldier named Jerry Mulligan who decides to stay in Paris after the war. He makes instant friends with two guys in a cafe and they all fall in love with the same mysterious French girl. It is the story of negotiating that. Instead of a love triangle it is more like a love square!
It is a fantastic show. It is a new musical, but has the feel of a classic. There is tons of singing, dancing, and acting. It is visually the most stunning show I have seen in my life.
WCT: You are a big Gene Kelly fan?
TM: When I was kid, I wanted to be Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire. That was my dream. I am lucky because all five of the tracks that I cover are in the big tap number in the second act. All the men are in tuxes with tails, top hats, and tap shoes.
WCT: So this is an old-school musical?
TM: It has everything you could want in a Broadway show. Usually that would be a break from the action to have a dance number, but in this show dance really propels the story forward in a very unique way.
There is a big show stopping tap number in the second act with showgirls and feather headdresses. When I first saw the show it was my favorite number.
WCT: I bombed taking tap class in college. It is not as easy as it looks.
TM: When I was a kid I took tap lessons a lot, but with my growth spurts the tap shoes were too expensive to keep buying in bigger sizes so quickly. I had the choice to keep doing tap or do more classes, and I wanted to do more classes.
Once I joined the show that was the first time I did tap since I was nine years old.
WCT: I remember it was hard to tap by myself in front of the whole class in school.
TM: That was part of the rehearsal process. We had to go in small groups or individually to make sure everyone is making the right sound.
There are several boys who actually have microphones going down the legs of their pants attaches to their shoes to amplify the sound to the audience. You have to have clean taps to do that.
WCT: There are several gay members of the cast?
TM: I would say the majority of the male cast are gay.
I can't wait to be back in Chicago. I am staying in Boystown so I will be in the middle of everything. I will get to see all of my friends and have a proper 30th birthday party. My birthday is the week before I arrive there.
WCT: Was there one thing you learned in Chicago that has helped you out in life?
TM: To be adaptive, ready for anything and to be open. I feel like Chicago is a place with so many opportunities and moving parts. If you are open and willing to work for it, you can make things happen for yourself.
For more on Tom's happenings, visit TomMattinglyDance.com; for tickets, see BroadwayInChicago.com .