When a dream becomes real: Dancing in “American In Paris”

The show-stopping “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise.” 	Matthew Murphy photoThe show-stopping “I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise.” Matthew Murphy photo

“An American in Paris” ranks as one of the most popular film musicals of all time.  Starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, it tells the romantic tale of an American soldier, a mysterious French girl, and an indomitable European city, each yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war. 

The story from that beloved MGM film was re-envisioned as a stage production in 2014, opening at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris before heading to Broadway. In New York, it played the Palace Theatre for more than a year and a half, picking up four Tony Awards along the way. The show’s national tour will be playing Boston’s Citi Wang Theatre through Nov. 6.

Directed and choreographed by 2015 Tony Award-winner Christopher Wheeldon, the show features the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin, including “S’Wonderful,” “I Got Rhythm,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and more.

The dancer Caitlin Meighan is performing in the Gershwin musical, “An American in Paris.”The dancer Caitlin Meighan is performing in the Gershwin musical, “An American in Paris.”Connecticut native Caitlin Meighan, who studied with the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto, is making her national tour debut as a member of the ensemble.  She also understudies the lead role of Lise (played by Caron in the film).  Prior to joining the tour, she spent ten seasons dancing with the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, where she now lives with her husband.  

Growing up, she spent a summer studying with the Boston Ballet.  She also has family throughout the Greater Boston area, with her Mom originally from Duxbury. 

We spoke by phone when the tour was in its final days of rehearsals.

Q. “An American in Paris” is definitely a dancer’s show.  Were you able to see it on Broadway before you were cast in the tour?
A. I did actually. A friend of mine who was in the Joffrey with me was in the show . . . I had heard so many incredible things.  . . . It was amazing. I had a smile on my face the entire show.  It’s impossible not to.  

Q. Did you ever imagine you’d later be dancing in the show yourself?
A. I did say to my Mom – who was with me and my sister (at the performance)– “Gosh, I really want that to be my next job” . . .  It was kind of a weird, gut feeling.  I felt very strongly that this was really something I wanted to do.

Q. How did you begin dancing?  Were you surrounded by the arts growing up?    
A. My Mom was a musical theater teacher.   My older sister is a phenomenal singer and was always in musical theatre.  I really wanted to do it, but I always loved ballet and ended up doing ballet more . . . So this is a perfect blend for me because it still has ballet in it, but I love to sing and act.  It was sort of a perfect fit. 

Q. How did you come to join the Joffrey.  That’s a prestigious credit.
A. I auditioned when I was 18. I was there for three days and did a cool audition and got the job.

Q. Was it a rigorous process?
A. I do remember it being extremely nerve-wracking — you want it so bad.  But the company was an amazing company.  They were very welcoming. 

Q. In that situation, do they give you a yes or no on the spot or did you have to wait to hear back?
A. They told me before I left . . . I was the last person they pulled into the office. They offered me an apprenticeship contract. My Mom was with me . . . I trying to be very sweet and calm . . . Then we got into the elevator and the two of us started screaming.  It was a pretty awesome moment. 

Q. “An American in Paris” has such a rich history.  Why do you think the stage version makes such a connection with theater audiences?
A. You know, it’s a classic love story. It brings people back to the wonderful days of Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron.  It has the dance elements but it also has the amazing music of Gershwin, amazing compositions.  Everyone leaves with love in their hearts.  I felt it before I was in it. It’s one of those musicals where you go  “Aaahhh, I’m on Cloud 9.”  It’s a sweet love story and it also ties in a lot of history in France . . . The audience loves it.

Q. Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
A. Yes, and it’s actually a sad moment, but it’s so beautiful. There’s a moment where one of the lead characters, Adam [played by Etai Benson], sings “But Not For Me.”  It’s the beautiful duet he does with Milo [played by Emily Ferranti] . . . The two of them are incredible singers . . . It’s so inspiring to hear these people sing and share their craft . . . [In “But Not For Me”] they’re singing about something similar, but they’re in very different points in their lives . . .  It gets me every time.  I’m always misty eyed . . . Your heart feels for these two characters.

Q. I understand you took a family trip to Ireland when you were growing up.
A. My grandfather would always tell me about his heritage and the Meighan clan.  He’s very proud of where he has been and where he has come from.  And it was very important for him to show us what our family was all about.  It made a huge impression on me growing up . . . We actually have some family still there.

Q. When was this?
A. I was about 10 . . . We took a two-week bus tour through Ireland and made a bunch of stops.  We toured the most incredible places.  We went to the Cliffs of Moher and The Giant’s Causeway and I kissed the Blarney Stone. It was an incredible experience. 

Q. And have you been to Paris?
A. (Laughing) . . . It’s next on my list! 

R. J. Donovan is editor and publisher of onstageboston.com.
“An American in Paris,” through Nov. 6, Citi Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston.  Info: citicenter.org or 800-982-2787.