A Marylander in Paris Bethesda-born dancer Allison Walsh takes the lead in the Broadway tour of "An American in Paris."

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Allison Walsh as Lise.

We were already pretty excited the arrival of Tony darling “An American in Paris” at the Hippodrome, but the good news got even better when we learned that the leading lady was a Marylander. Allison Walsh, who plays Lise in the show, was born and raised in Bethesda before making her professional debut at the Washington Ballet. We chatted with her about Lise, learning to sing and life on the road.

How did you get into dance?
I started taking ballet at the Rockville Municipal Center, and then did most of my training with the Maryland Youth Ballet. I had to focus–if you’re going to be a professional dancer, you have to decide at a rather young age that that’s what you’re going to do.

I became a professional right out of high school with the Washington Ballet. I was very fortunate that the DC area has such excellent ballet training.

You first joined An American in Paris as a member of the ensemble and then as an alternate in the original Broadway cast. You had never had theater training before landing the role?
No, it’s unusual, but I didn’t have any theater experience at all. I was very fortunate to book it and have this incredible journey. It led me to so many new paths.

Tell us about the show.
It’s loosely based on the Gene Kelly movie, [featuring] all Gershwin music, but it’s an amalgam of a play and Christopher Wheldon’s choreographic genius. Storytelling through dance is unusual for a musical, but it’s more organic and seamless. And the scenic design is visually stunning. It really does feel very Parisian.

What do you mean?
[The design] makes everyone and every inanimate object dance on stage–gliding across the floor with a lamp post, creating these beautiful scenes through dance….it captures the joie de vivre of Paris.

But it’s still a musical, right?
Oh yes, it’s still a traditional musical with an iconic Gershwin score, it’s just that dance is also integrated into the show.

Do you sing in the show?
I do, which was a totally new endeavor for me and a lot of the people in our show. I had to take singing lessons and learn to project on stage. My family still thinks it’s wild.

Had you ever been on tour before?
No, I’ve never been on tour. My husband is a touring rock musician, so he’s been on tour for the entirety of our relationship. I was used to traveling and visiting him, but this was my first time performing on the road. It’s so exciting and keeps the show very fresh.

What’s nice for me is that I have a lot of friends scattered all over the country, so I get to reconnect with them.

And now you’re coming back to Maryland. Are you excited?
I’m so excited. I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends, and my family will be there. I’m going to go home for a day and I’ll get to hang out with and stay with my friends.

Last question: Why should people come see the show?
Our show is like nothing else you’ll ever see on stage. It’s visually arresting. I don’t know if people get to see that level of dance very often.

It’s lovely to go out for a night of theater and be washed over with the love and energy of the show. It’s high art, but also just really entertaining, and you’ll leave with a great feeling in your heart.

 

“An American in Paris” will play at the Hippodrome from May 1-6. 

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