An American in Paris topped the nominations for the 69th annual Tony Awards. With 12 nominations total – and four wins for the production – the sweeping Gershwin musical was one of the biggest stage successes in 2015.
Led by Robert Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan and Leanne Cope as Lise Dassin, both of whom received Tony nominations for their respective roles, the production featured some of the most elaborate and exquisite traditional ballet choreography that Broadway has seen in years.
Max von Essen, who plays Henri Baurel, and Brandon Uranowitz, who plays Adam Hochberg, were also nominated for a Tony Award for their roles while Jill Paice portrayed the musical’s strongest female character, the sassy and independent Milo Davenport.
During their time developing the primary supporting characters of the production, the trio created the Supporting Characters’ Meeting, which allowed them an opportunity to check-in during the performance and have a bit of fun while Fairchild and Cope’s characters fell in love on stage. During these meetings they would also introduce themselves with the name of a supporting character from a different musical.
Fans quickly became interested in the backstage rituals and the cast began posting videos on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media platforms. The cast said many fans still approach them after their performances and ask which characters they identified themselves as during the Supporting Characters’ Meeting that day.
Stage Door Dish recently sat down with the three supporting leads in An American in Paris to discuss their long-running Broadway hit, the evolution of the production, and the roles they play within each other’s real-lives.
I wanted all three of you together because I adore the Supporting Characters’ Meeting. How did it start?
JP: There’s just a moment where all three of us – Max is putting on a sweater, I’m changing a dress.
BU: I’m putting on my coat.
JP: There’s just a moment where we all found ourselves in the booth together. During tech, we would be sitting there for a while waiting for them to move on to the next number.
MVE: The show goes by and a lot of us have offstage time, but it’s not the same. It’s so rare that the three of us found ourselves intersecting at that moment.
JP: It became our support group.
BU: It’s like our AA meeting.
MVE: We’d come in and be like, ‘Is there anything we need to discuss?’ Then, we ask each other what’s going on today. Then we really developed it into, ‘It’s time for our meeting of supporting characters.’ We’d have our little characters.
What made you want to do it every single show?
JP: We started coming up with supporting characters from other shows.
BU: It was about making each other laugh. Some days we would do a theme. It started on Instagram, maybe.
MVE: And then I started putting it in every vlog. A lot of people saw it. That was pretty early in the run, too.
JP: It seemed like all these high school kids got into it. They would put their meetings up online.
BU: They started asking us, ‘Who were you at your supporting characters’ meeting today?’ They would ask us about it at the stage door.
JP: Then we’d start playing with them at the stage door.
BU: Then we were like, ‘We have to continue it.’
MVE: People are counting on us!
What happens to each of your characters after the show ends? Do they stay involved with each other?
JP: I think Milo and Henri probably end up in New York.
MVE: I agree.
JP: She probably gets him started there. I’ve never thought about Adam and Milo.
BU: I don’t know. I think I stay.
JP: In Paris? I think you would.
BU: I think so. Do you think Jerry and Lise stay? Do you think Jerry takes Lise to America? Now I’m thinking that what Adam does might depend on where they go.
JP: In my mind, they’ve always stayed. Maybe they travel the world, and then come back.
BU: I think I stay. I think I travel around a bit. I think I write for different companies and ballets and start composing. That probably brings me back to New York eventually, a la Gershwin.
MVE: I think Henri goes to New York as well. In early versions of the script and the workshop, the relationships were more fleshed out. There was definitely more between Milo and Henri. We always knew that it was the playwright’s intention that the relationship become more friendly more quickly. They opened up to each other a little bit more. They share this loss of the person they were in love with.
JP: When she says, ‘Call me in the morning’, I think he does. That’s the beginning of it.
BU [to JP]: That makes more sense to me. There was a version where we sing ‘Can’t Take That Away’, the two of us? Remember that?
JP: For one read-through, and then it was gone. It just didn’t make sense.
BU: They really tried to make us a tight friendship.
JP: But it worked much more with Henri. You’re the lone wolf, I guess.
BU: I don’t know that I really end up with anyone ever.
JP: That got dark quickly.
BU: But I think he’s okay with that.
JP: He’s always going to be a little bit in love with Lise.
I want to talk about the audience. The knitting, the phones, etc. It’s become such a big problem for theatre, especially recently. Can you talk about how that affects the performance?
MVE: I tweet about it. It’s mostly to find the humor in it or to educate people in a way because it is frustrating. With that said, our audiences are actually really good. Really respectful. It makes it funnier. One time, we had a couple in the front row who were getting very friendly if you know what I mean. Very inappropriate. It was so weird. It’s rare that I ever hear a phone.
BU: Phones very rarely ring. I hear them a lot in other places.
MVE: We’ve been really lucky in general.
BU: What gets me the most is not necessarily the filming, which I hate because it’s breaking a rule. We can’t really keep ownership of our work that way.
JP: They’re filming what becomes your worst performance.
BU: It takes ownership away from you, which really bothers me. But what bothers me even more is when I can see people on their phones, not engaged with the performance. If I find someone looking at their phone with the backlight on their face, that really really irks me.
MVE: I love what we do so much. I’m really proud of the fact that I step out onstage and go there. You get lost in it. As soon as you see the shine of a camera in the audience or the shine of someone’s iPhone, you realize that you’re not there. You’re not this person. It’s not 1945. You’re not lost in your own world. It completely breaks it for me and for the people in the vicinity of that phone or that shine or that light on someone’s face. The whole concept of live theatre is that the audience member is taking what you’re giving them from the stage and relationship live in this moment. The moment someone picks up a phone, you completely kill the entire concept of theatre. You’ve broken it. It no longer exists as live theatre. That’s a problem. It’s like if someone accidentally mops across the stage in the middle of your scene. There’s been a breach of that relationship. It’s disappointing.
JP: There’s nothing you can do about it until you get offstage. They continue filming while you’re up there, and you wait.
MVE: Then you tell a stage manager, and they tell an usher.
The movie is basically legendary and has been so well-loved over the decades. Why do you think people are so connected with the story and excited about the musical?
BU: The form of our storytelling is unique to a lot of people. It’s something fresh. When you think of fresh musical theatre, you think of Hamilton or Next to Normal or Spring Awakening or something like that. I think we’ve come across this rare thing that seems fresh and classic at the same time. It intrigues people. People keep coming back because they keep discovering new things. The way that Chris [Wheeldon] works, his dance is so intricate and the way that our story is threaded together is so intricate, I think people like coming back to discover new things.
MVE: It is so new and so fresh. When people ask me about my dream role, I say, ‘I want to do something new.’ Here, it also feels like a throwback. I love revivals. I feel most comfortable in shows for another era. I feel like I’m in a revival, yet also in a brand new, thrilling, fresh production not like the original production of Gypsy where the set rolls on, the overture plays, and it one of the most incredibly perfect musicals ever written. You have that feeling of being in something timeless and loved, yet told in such a new, beautiful, fresh way. Christopher Wheeldon’s staging is so innovative. Without the traditional overture, suddenly you’re just there. The way the set works it’s not like, ‘Now the house comes on’ and ‘now the safe rolls on.’ Literally, everything dances on. The entire ensemble moves everything on. I always say the whole production dances because of this choreographer, now director, who sees everything through this foundation of dance. It’s that comfort of hearing ‘S’Wonderful.’ An 8 year old might not even know why he knows it. Maybe he heard it in a commercial or something. An 80 year old couple comes and they remember hearing Gershwin for the first time. It’s part of American blood. There’s that comfort you’re hearing. It’s new and fresh. It’s beautifully melded together.
BU: Also, things flow so seamlessly together. You find yourself from a song and a scene and all of the sudden, you’re in the middle of a ballet before you even know what happened to you. It’s surprising people that they can be so engaged in ballet and dance. You’ve been watching a musical, and all of a sudden, you’re in a story ballet. People are like, ‘Oh my god, I never knew that I liked ballet this much.’
JP: I think it’s the ballet and the storytelling. You’ve got an artist, you’ve got dance, you’ve got a music writer. It touches on every piece of art that’s out there. There’s something for everybody to enjoy there and discover something new when they come.
I want to talk about the fellowship of the show, especially since Robbie Fairchild recently departed. You guys started the show in Paris. What makes you excited to come back to the show every night after all this time? How have your friendships evolved?
JP: Supporting Characters’ is a real thing now. I worry that one of you will leave.
BU: I worry about it every day.
JP: It was hard when Robbie left. It’s hard because he was with us from the beginning. Garen [Scribner] is amazing. He’s been with us from the beginning as well.
MVE: It’s a very special bond. We’ve been doing it for a long time.
BU: It’s familial in that way.
JP: Theatrical relationships are very fast. You get to know a lot about each other very quickly because of the stories you tell in rehearsal to get them to understand you or the way you relate to each other. Brandon could know my whole life story in the first ten minutes that I meet him. Those shows will close and you’ll never see those people again and everybody moves on. But with this, you dig in and really get to know each other. We adore each other. You guys are why I like to come to work. I always say the moment that I share with Max onstage, when we’re dancing, is when I feel the most comfortable. It’s a really special place to be.
MVE: It is pretty amazing. As close as we all get, as hard as it is when someone leaves, we still love getting to come and do this show. We have that on our side. I’ve been in some shows that aren’t so great, where I’m not that excited to do the show. So when your friends leave, you’re like, ‘Oh gosh. That was I needed to get me through this.’ We still have this great show. It is pretty wild how you’re so nervous about someone leaving. We’ve had a lot of ensemble members move on to things, yet someone new comes in and you realize they’re so wonderful. They become part of this family. You think, ‘how can your original group ever change?’ but it’s changing constantly. Somehow, I don’t know if it’s a special thing about theatre, but everyone comes in and becomes a new members of the family and the company. We still are lucky because we know we’re coming here, having great audiences, and we’re getting to go out there and feel great about the work.
BU: It’s also been a long time. In my career, this is the first time I’ve been in a long running show. My career has been mostly regional gigs here and there for three months. You get to know them and it’s really fast and you guys become really close and then you leave, and you don’t really ever talk to them again. We’ve known each other deeply and closely for two years now.
JP: You guys went to Robbie’s wedding.
BU: We went to Robbie’s wedding. We’ve been through a lot.
JP: And Leanne [Cope] came to my wedding when I got married.
BU: We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve been through some really extreme ups and downs with each other and helped each other through.
JP: We have, for sure.
If you guys can recall, what was your first impression of each other?
JP: We’ve known each other since 2011. Max and I worked opposite each other in Death Takes a Holiday off-Broadway, several readings, and some things at the York Theatre.
MVE: We’ve known each other for a while.
JP [to MVE]: I can’t remember first meeting you because when I met you, I felt like I already knew who you were, just because of your reputation. Not in a bad way- Max was well-known in the business.
MVE [to JP]: You too. I felt like I knew you. This one, though, I knew was going to be trouble. [points at Uranowitz] I knew that pretty quickly with him and with Robbie.
JP: They really are the The Three Musketeers.
BU: We were pretty fast friends. I remember walking into the room being kind of terrified because I also knew of Max being in the business and constantly working. He also had this confidence and ease that I had been trying to find in myself for many years. That’s been my biggest downfall, that I’ve always been hard on myself, and I walked in and he just knows how to own a room and make everyone feel comfortable. Within two seconds, we were already making side comments to each other.
MVE: We also knew really quickly that we had a little puppy to play with, Robbie Fairchild. I’m from Long Island, he’s from New Jersey. I’m older but we had similar experiences and we get it. We have a dry sense of humor and we’re tough on each other. The way I express love for my friends is by insulting them and being cruel.
BU: Same with me.
MVE: Robbie was just like a little puppy and the nicest guy in the world. Where’s he from?
MVE: He was just like, ‘Who are these freaks?’
BU: We loved being his mentors. And then this one [nods to JP] has this warm, comforting, welcoming aura, and I felt like I could crawl into her arms and be like, ‘Let’s talk about what’s happening.’ Building a new show is the dream, really, but it comes with its ups and downs, and it comes with its trials, and I really felt a kinship with Jill and that I could talk to her about anything and everything. We were very lucky, and I think it’s a testament to Chris and casting and the creative team of finding the right people for these roles to create chemistry. We have really good chemistry offstage.
I have a couple of questions for you guys to answer about each other. If you could cast each other in a show, what would it be? Who would you like to see each other play?
JP: I want you to be in Falsettos [to Uranowitz].
MVE: Me too.
BU: Put me in Falsettos, thank you.
MVE: I want to see Jill in The King and I.
BU: Or Hello Dolly.
JP: Nine would be interesting.
BU [to MVE]: You’d be so good in Company.
What can you tell me about each other that people would be surprised to learn? What are your favorite memories with each other?
MVE: This is terrible. I won’t say what it was, who was directing, or anything, but I did something with Jill. It was so bad. I can’t recall exactly what happened, but the director asked us to do another ridiculous thing. Jill was nowhere in sight, but she was backstage in the wings, and I heard, ‘Oh God! No!’ At this point, no one cared, and out of nowhere we heard ‘Ugh!’
JP: One of my best memories with Brandon was when the Tony nominations came out. It was horrible for me because I didn’t get nominated and everyone else was, so everyone was very high and the show got nominated which was great. It got real weird around here for a little while, and finally Brandon came to my room and we cried together. Brandon got nominated, which was amazing. When his name came out was when I burst into tears because I was so ecstatic for him, and then when I didn’t get the nomination, which happens, it just put a divide between us. I felt it, but perhaps it was invented in my head.
BU: If we’re talking about being through so much together, when award season happens- I had no idea because I had never been in that situation, I had never been in a show that had the potential to be nominated for so many things- they roll out slowly with the Outer Critics and the Drama Desks and all these other things. We had been left out. Max was nominated for all of them, as were Robbie and Leanne and the show and Chris, and we were very excited, but we had been like, ‘We can get through this, it’s okay, we’re still great in the show, people like us.’ Awards force you into a weird headspace that you don’t need to be in. What are they, really? What do they mean? Then the Tonys came out.
JP [to BU]: You texted me the night before, ‘I don’t want to wake up in the morning.’
BU: And I didn’t wake up.
JP: You didn’t want tomorrow to happen. I was like, ‘I got your back, it’s okay.’ They came out, and it’s a funny story with your dad barging into the room.
BU: I thought he was having a heart attack.
JP: He was so excited for Brandon. Then there needed to be a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I needed the acknowledgement that they understood that I was feeling hurt or left out. I remember Brandon coming to my room and we cried together, and then it was fine. We moved on and it was great. I was able to celebrate you guys.
BU: Talk about the highest highs of your life and the lowest lows of your life. We got through that together.
MVE: This has been a ride. While you guys were talking, I thought about when you came in after you had just gotten engaged. She was just glowing. It truly changes things and I remember how on top of the world she was. To share stuff like that with you guys, and Leanne getting married after the workshop, Robbie getting married. Since we met, there have been three weddings and a baby. Do you remember when I walked by Robbie’s dressing room at one point in between shows, we were all exhausted, Robbie was taking a nap and Brandon was on the floor with him, and I got in there and started taking a nap with them? Either you or Leanne walked by next and started napping, then the other one got in, then finally Veanne Cox walks by. We’re literally all on one mattress, and now all six of us are napping between shows or during tech. These moments are snapshots in my head of times we’ve had.
JP: Spending time in Paris together brought us closer together. We were out there exploring the city together and away from home.
BU: We also fart a lot.
JP: That’s Max and Brandon!
MVE: Why would you say that?
BU: We were getting so mushy.
MVE: I try to keep that a secret.
BU: Sorry, not anymore.
MVE [to BU]: What might people not know about you? You love wigs and caftans.
BU: I think everybody knows that.
Your memorable performance in The King and I in the basement here was really moving.
BU: Thank you, I’m so glad. Kelli [O’Hara] got the Tony, and now Marin [Mazzie] is replacing her. It’s okay.
JP: You’re next.
JP: You can be the alternate.
BU: I’d be the alternate.
What would you say you’ve learned from each other the last two years together?
JP: How to get a laugh. I would come to Brandon a lot when I wasn’t landing it. With Max, like Brandon was talking about, the way you carry yourself. To be mature and confident but still able to laugh at yourself is something I really enjoy about you and I could probably try to do more of. Max has really been a leader for this company.
BU: He has this uncanny ability to know how to take care of other people while, at the same time, knowing how to fight for things that he deserves or needs while staying professional and loving. I feel like this business is filled with many types, some of whom are in this building. There are many people who can deal with certain situations in an unprofessional way, and you’ve taught me that if I feel like I’ve been treated unfairly, I can speak up for myself while maintaining good relationships with people.
JP: It’s empowering.
BU: Yes, you’ve certainly taught me how to feel empowered and confident.
JP: In this business, specifically.
MVE: I don’t know if it’s something I learned in a moment, but people who share certain experiences like our Supporting Characters’ Meeting, that develops out of a shared experience. The ensemble has their own things they’ve been through in their own ways, and Robbie and Leanne, being the stars of the show, have had their experience in a different way by being the face of the show and the ultimate story we tell, so everyone connects on different levels. In this show, more than ever, I learned to rely on others. We’ve really become close. Doing a new show, we’ve been lucky that it turned out well. They don’t always. Very often, it’s a challenging process and you go through this much, and then it fades away and you think, ‘Why did we even do that?’ We do it because we love it and you hope for those moments when you do all the work and it’s Book or Mormon or Phantom of the Opera and it’s still around after 30 years, or it’s American in Paris and you get to go on and keep doing this for years. You hope for that, and we’ve been through it together and relied on each other and come together as friends and coworkers and leaned on each other in a way that I’ve never had in my career so far.
JP: It’s a trustworthy group, it’s very honest. If I’m having a bad day, I know I can come to one of these guys and it’s not going to go out everywhere. I know I can come here and bring my highs and lows and we can lean on each other.
MVE: The great things, you can celebrate together, and the things that are tough, you know that they get it. You don’t have to go and feel like you’re complaining somewhere else, because it’s not complaining with us. We get it. Someone else might say, ‘Shut up!’ But that’s where you find the similar experience, with anything that I’m complaining about, whether it’s here or for my life outside or anything I’m celebrating, we have this shared experience together that’s safe and amazing.