Brothers George and Ira Gershwin are undeniably two of the most influential figures in Music Theatre history.
Many of their pieces have become standards, with an impressive list of compositions including “I Got Rhythm”, “Embraceable You”, “Summertime”, and “‘S Wonderful”. Musicals of the Golden Age took a slightly different approach to those of modern day, with popular songs often being reused and recontextualised in different shows – The music of the Gershwins was no exception, with An American in Paris being a perfect culmination of their work.
The show follows young WWII veteran Jerry seeking a new life as an artist in France. There, he falls for the enchanting Lise, a woman with secrets of her own, all while coming to the attention of rich heiress after more than just his art. The Australian production of the show has Robbie Fairchild and Leanne Cope returning for the principal roles they originated, as well as some of the finest Australian theatre talent. Sydney-born Ashleigh Rubenach will be playing American heiress Milo in the Australian tour of the show.
A graduate of WAAPA, Ashleigh most recently toured with Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical as the understudy for Muriel. Her other credits include Anything Goes, My Fair Lady, Funny Girl, The Sound of Music, and Allison in Cry-Baby for which she was awarded Best Female Actor at the Sydney Theatre Awards.
Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with the show?
Ashleigh: It’s a glorious show. I actually saw it on Broadway in 2015 when I was over there, and I remember being just so struck by how breathtaking the whole piece was – the dance, the music, the design, everything, the way it was all integrated. I think that is actually one of the most beautiful things about the show, and the thing I love the most is how seamless everything is. So to have experienced that from the outside and now to be in it, watching all the mechanisms in place that make it all happen, is pretty special. Not to mention thematically, it just feels so appropriate. The whole show is a celebration of the re-emergence of culture and and keeping art alive. It’s a good timing for a show like that.
How have you found working alongside the rest of the cast?
Ashleigh: This show is such, as I said, a celebration of art, but it really is a celebration of what skills people are bringing to the table. The beauty of this show is being able to watch and admire what other people are bringing to the table and feel and experience yourself learning and growing because of that – and I can a thousand percent attest to that being true. I cannot believe it’s my job to watch ballerinas be incredible. Every day I’m pinching myself. Having Robbie [Fairchild] and Leanne [Cope] over here, you feel everyone just take a big step up and really, really come to the table. And Australian talent in the show… I haven’t seen anything like it, sitting there watching the rehearsals. They’re just unbelievable. Anne and David have such incredible careers and I’m learning so much from them every day. Sam Wood and John Hickey are heaven on a stick, and sound like a dream, and are the absolute best people to hang out with all day. We’ve got beautiful Dimity [Azoury] and Cam [Holmes] who are our Jerry and Lise alternates and they are both exceptional… some of the most stunning dancers I’ve ever seen. The way that they’ve both been able to transcend their mostly ballet background, just hats off to them [laughs]. It’s such an incredibly difficult show for both of those roles and the fact that both Dimity and Cam have stepped up and not only met expectations but exceeded them is incredible. But literally everyone is. It’s one of those shows where you walk in and you’re like, “wow, this is a genuine bunch of people who are just so grateful to be here, so excited by the work that they’re doing and honestly celebrating each other.”
Are you excited to be performing the iconic music of the Gershwins?
Ashleigh: Oh my gosh, yes. To be able to sing this beautiful, beautiful music… even just to listen to this beautiful music. Hearing that music and knowing that we’ll be performing with a live orchestra of local musicians is just mind blowing. It feels absolutely delightful to sing. And it’s such just joyous songs like “I Got Rhythm” and “‘S Wonderful”. So many of them are standards you’d hear at jazz clubs or piano solos, so to hear them all in the same context is pretty amazing. I mean, it does something to my heart, this type of music. It really, really does.
How is An American In Paris different to past shows you’ve worked on?
Ashleigh: I started my musical journey way back when I was first discovering theatre, mostly through my nana, watching old films and going and seeing shows like The Sound of Music. This type of production is more kind of my ‘origin wheelhouse’, I grew up with Gene Kelly and Julie Andrews. That’s what I’ve always sung like. It was only it was only actually really in Cry-Baby that I started finding a contemporary sound in my voice and belting, and then that sort of led into Muriel’s. So I sort of had that two year period of being very belty and contemporary, which I didn’t think was ever going to be something I could do. It was amazing to discover that I love doing that as well. My first my first three shows out of uni were Anything Goes, The Sound Of Music and My Fair Lady, so I think that kind of world is where my voice fits most happily.
An American in Paris opens at Brisbane’s QPAC on January 8th, and will be touring to Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney throughout 2022.
For tickets and more information, visit the An American In Paris website.