One phone call leads to a big break for "American in Paris" lead actor Garen Scribner
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Garen Scribner might not have been born to play the lead in "An American in Paris," but for the past year and a half he certainly has been groomed to play Jerry in the national tour, which is at Proctors Theatre Friday through Oct. 21.
In a recent telephone interview, Scribner, who joined the San Francisco Ballet as a 17-year-old in 2003 and became soloist in 2008, explained that in 2013, after 10 years with the company, he decided to leave ballet and try to the world of musical theater.
The big break came with a call from Christopher Wheeldon, the director and choreographer of "An American in Paris."
"He explained they were looking for someone to be the alternate for Robert Fairchild, who won a Tony Award for his performance of Jerry (Mulligan). He asked me to submit a video and when they offered me the role, of course, I accepted immediately."
Scribner went on for Fairchild on Wednesday evenings and Saturday matinees, as well as during Fairchild's vacations and breaks from the show. Earlier this year, Fairchild left the production and Scribner took possession of the role on Broadway. (Also in the Proctors cast is Sara Esty, who played the leading female role of Lise Dassin in the Broadway production.)
When asked about transitioning from ballet to Broadway musicals, Scribner said, "Essentially it's all about telling a story." He did point out he did not come to musical theater unprepared, having performed the role of Tony in "West Side Story" while with the San Francisco Ballet. "I discovered how the additional tools of song and spoken work offered more opportunities for a performer. I think it was that performance that made me want a future in musical theater."
He had confidence in his abilities with dance, but said he was surprised at how well his voice served the show. He had vocal training as a young man but he says, "It had been a while since I sang in a musical and I was happy to find it was still functional." But functional isn't good enough for Scribner who describes himself as "a perfectionist."
While performing on Broadway, he continued vocal training with the support and encouragement of the show's producers.
"They (Wheeldon and the producers) never stopped nurturing me," Scribner says.
"An American in Paris" is probably best known from the 1951 film musical that starred Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. It tells of an American ex-soldier who, while in Paris, meets a mysterious woman who fascinates him. When he eventually finds her, he discovers she is engaged to a friend. It was a wildly romantic story set to the music of George and Ira Gershwin.
Scribner has nothing but praise for the film. However, he says the stage version is "inspired by" but is not a reproduction of the film.
Together with his collaborator, playwright Craig Lucas, Wheeldon has shifted the time period back to 1945, in the early days of the liberation.
"I think what sets us apart is a deepening of the time period," he said.
"When the film was made, no one was interested in exploring the reconstruction of Europe after the war. The result was they made a wonderful romantic film. We look more inward and use the characters to understand what it was like to live during that era.
"In our show the characters' relationship to Paris is an important part of telling the story."
What: "An American in Paris." Music and lyrics by George and Ira Gershwin. Book by Craig Lucas. National tour directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Where: Proctors Theatre, 432 State St., Schenectady, N.Y.
When: Friday through Oct. 21. Evenings — Friday, Saturday and Thursday at 8; Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30. Matinees — Sunday at 2; Thursday at 1:30
How: 518-346-6204; proctors.org; in person at Proctors box office on site