American in Paris 2017 tour

Allison Walsh as Lise and McGee Maddox as Jerry Mulligan dance through memorable Gershwin tunes in the touring production of "American in Paris." 

Matthew Murphy

Gene Kelly is an inspiration to performer McGee Maddox—although he admits he isn’t alone in that admiration.

Kelly “has inspired probably every male dancer,” Maddox said.

So it’s only fitting that Maddox is now starring in a role originated by Kelly on the silver screen in 1951. Maddox is playing Jerry Mulligan in the national tour of “An American in Paris” the 2015 Broadway musical based on the film of the same name.

The national musical tour will come to Overture Center for the Arts Feb. 27—Mar. 4, 2018.

It should be noted, however, that the musical and the movie are fairly different entities.

“I think the show has more intent on developing a backstory for each character and a backstory of the narrative,” Maddox said. “We get into darker aspects of the story in this show.”

Set in Paris in 1945, the City of Lights is emerging from the darkness of WWII. Jerry Mulligan is an American soldier who remains in the city after the war to become a painter when he meets a French ballet dancer named Lise Dassin. But Jerry catches the eye of a young American heiress and Lise is already engaged to someone else which complicates their fateful meeting.

With a soundtrack of George and Ira Gershwin’s beloved music the cast journeys through the joys and complexities of life as the world around them rebounds from the hardships of war.

The musical has a wider focus of the former Nazi occupation of Paris and what that meant for its people than the film did so audiences should be prepared for those differences from screen to stage, Maddox said.

For Maddox this show also holds a special significance as it is his first foray into musical theater.

“I was always very eager to dive into that discipline,” he said.

Maddox is classically trained in ballet and has been dancing professionally for 12 years but “American in Paris” requires the training of a ballet dancer which made it a natural fit for him.

He hopes that more musical theater work awaits him in the future as he is open to the possibility of expanding performance repertoire.

“I’ll take a number of opportunities that come my way,” Maddox said.

Particularly with the masterful Gershwin work, there is a lot of fun to be had on stage with “An American in Paris.”

According to Maddox the big dance numbers are a joy to do, especially the ballet at the end of the show.

“There is a lot of organized confusion on stage which is a lot of fun,” he added.

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Amanda Finn is an arts and lifestyle reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.