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Having been Robert Fairchild’s alternate Jerry in An American in Paris, Ashley Day took on the role full-time in June. His previous theatre credits include playing Elder Price in The Book of Mormon, and Curly McLain in the UK tour of Oklahoma!, for which he was nominated for a UK Theatre Award in 2015.
When we spoke to Ashley at the launch of An American in Paris last year, he said the first thing that stuck him about the performance was that he was “going to be exhausted”. So one year on, and six weeks into performing the role every night, we caught up with Ashley to find out how things were going.
How have you been settling in to the role of Jerry full-time?
It’s going really well. I’m very relaxed and enjoying being able to do it nightly. After being the alternate for the last couple of months I’ve been able to get the show into my body and get ready for the demands of this role. It’s going great. The audiences have been amazing and they seem to be very happy.
What changes do you have to make when you take on a role like this full-time?
It’s mostly adapting to what I can and can’t do in the days, what I should be doing outside of work to keep me show fit. At the moment, I see a personal trainer four times a week. I’m looked after by the very best and feel very fit.
What have you done to make the role your own?
What I love about this show that the film didn’t have as much is the real honesty about what actually happened after the war in Paris. The struggles the whole city was going through. There’s a scene in the film where Gene Kelly sings with the kids is almost like nothing ever happened. I’m digging down into all those moments so it isn’t just how wonderful that scene was. When cities take a hit, it takes a long time to rebuild and get it back to life. So I really enjoy the journey, rebuilding the city brick-by-brick.
You mention the film, have you always been a fan of the story?
It’s one of my favourite MGM film of that era. When I was in The Book of Mormon about four years ago I mentioned it to someone and they got me a poster of the film. And that was before the show had even happened in Paris. They were waiting for the right time to do this production, and they did the film its worth and more.
So when the opportunity to be in the stage production came up, you must have been pretty excited?
Because of the way it was cast in New York, I didn’t think I’d get a part in it. My background is in musical theatre and the people that usually get the part are from ballet companies. Usually if I’m going for a job I’m dying for it. I’ll put pressure on myself. With this, I felt like “we’ll see what happens, if they give it to a ballet dancer then there’s not much I can do about that”. It was a weirdly nice pressure.
Was your training dance-orientated?
When I was 11 I went to a full-time theatre school until I was 16, then I went to Doreen Bird’s school. My first job was for Matthew Bourne in his Nutcracker, and then after that I’ve worked in musical theatre. I have the knowledge of a dancer’s regime and what they go through, but I hadn’t been dancing like we do in this show for a long time.
A lot of actors say that acting is just ‘something that happened’ to them, or that they just ‘fell into it’. How important is formal training for a dancer?
You can’t be a ballet dancer if you’re not going to classes every day. The determination is so inspiring. A West End musical that has 30 of those people coming to work with that mentality is so thrilling. It’s very different to the musical theatre world.
One of the trademark scenes of this production is the long dance routine in the second act. It’s beautiful to watch, but what’s it like to perform?
When that scene happens, it’s a big part of the story. Because we have these incredible dancers, we can take the audience out of their musical theatre mind-set to see this amazing dance piece. It shocks people how brave that piece is. It’s a long piece but I feel like it gets the best reaction. There are some very intense moments in it. It’s the most thrilling part of the show for me, not just to get that quiet time on stage. The first part with Leanne [Cope, plays Lise] is very intimate, very sensual, it’s almost like there’s no one watching because it’s so personal.
Right now, two of the biggest shows in the West End focus on dance – the other being 42nd Street – do you think shows like these are exposing dance to a wider audience?
Audiences get such a huge thrill out of seeing dancing. I saw 42nd Street a couple of weeks ago and I’ve always loved that show, and yet it’s so different to ours. What’s so thrilling is seeing a stage full of people giving their all. Through things like Strictly, which I suspect is one of the most viewed shows of the year, people love it.
There isn’t one that’s happening now I don’t think. As you mentioned, those two roles are so different, and after I’d like to do something so far removed from this show. I’d absolutely like to originate a character. If that happens to you, you’re very lucky and I would pray that I’m in the industry long enough for that to happen to me. I’d love to have that experience.
An American In Paris Tickets are available now.