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Laurie Wells goes from OCSA to ‘Paris'

The touring company of “An American in Paris” includes Laurie Wells, far left, who went to high school in Orange County.

“An American in Paris” dazzled Broadway when it opened in 2015. A reimaging of the beloved 1951 film, the musical blended freshly arranged George and Ira Gershwin tunes with luscious dance and direction from one of the world’s top choreographers, ballet’s Christopher Wheeldon. The New York Times raved, calling it “an exhilarating brio.”  Laurie Wells, 41, who grew up in Orange County, performs in the show’s first North America tour, which stops in Costa Mesa and Hollywood this spring.

Wells, who attended El Dorado High School in Placentia and Orange County School of the Arts, landed her first professional gig as a teen. She moved to Nashville to sing at Opryland USA and on the Grand Ole Opry stage, later performing on cruise ships to save enough money to live in New York, take acting lessons and launch a stage career. During the tour’s stop in Dallas, Wells spoke to Coast from a distinctive Airbnb she was sharing with her husband of 10 years, actor Don Noble, who also appears in “An American in Paris.”

Coast: You could stay in hotels all over the country, but you’ve decided on an Airbnb. It’s not what you imagine when you think of a stage actor’s life.
LW: It’s such a cool new way to live. We don’t want to be in a hotel. We want to be able to live like we live. You know the HGTV show “Tiny House”? We found a “tiny home” in this gorgeous area in Dallas. We love kitchens and love to be home and cook. We book different kinds of houses around the country. Right now, I’m talking to this woman in Newport Beach. It’s not beachfront, but it’s around the corner, and I’m trying to negotiate with her. I’m like, “Come on, I’ll give you tickets to the show. It’ll be great.” And she’s like, “No. It’s $4,000 for the week.”  

Coast: It seems unusual for cast members to be married. How did it work out that you would both be in the same tour?  
LW: It’s a really special treat. We met about 13 years ago on tour with “Mamma Mia”; he was the leading man and I was understudying the leading lady, Donna. We had never worked together since. He booked “An American in Paris,” and I called my agent and said, “Is there anything available?” And he said, “There’s one job that you could do.” I went in for it and I got it. It’s a great adventure.

Coast: How is it working on the first tour of a Broadway show?
LW: Our cast is just beautiful. I mean, the Broadway cast was so delightful, but it’s so great to get a second shot at casting a show. Because you really see what works and what doesn’t and what you really need to make the show click. Christopher Wheeldon, who’s the director-choreographer, has really done that. He’s assembled an A-plus cast.

Coast: He’s involved? Is that unusual?
LW: Kind of, but because it’s the first national tour, I think, it’s kind of like it’s his baby. Christopher was there for the whole rehearsal period. He’s putting up the show in London right now, so he flies back and forth and checks in on us. He’s been here a lot, which is really nice for us because he’s just a genius and makes everything work.

Coast: Describe what it’s like singing Gershwin.
LW: Oh, God. I love it so much. I mean, I just love listening to the show. The orchestrations are stunning.  We tear down that Nazi flag, which we love to do every night. Let me tell you, what a show to be doing right now. It’s so topical, and we are loving telling the story. After we tear down the Nazi flag, we hop into this Technicolor “I Got Rhythm,” which is so bright and so alive, and that’s one of my favorite moments in the show right now.

Coast: It’s set at the end of World War II, but it doesn’t look like an old-school musical.
LW: It’s really contemporary. When you watch it, it feels new. It’s just visually so stunning. It’s very dark in the beginning but when we come out of the occupation of Paris, it’s like Technicolor a little bit. It’s just so primary and bright but also so modern. It’s not what you would think of when you think of ballet dancing, for me. So it really surprised me. And I wept. The writing is so concise that I just thought the storytelling was perfect.

Coast: Your family lives in north San Diego County, and you have friends and teachers in Orange County. Is there an extra level of excitement or butterflies when you know you’ve got people in the audience?  
LW: What’s really cool is that most everyone here is going to play their hometown and be on stage in front of family and friends. Every time one of these people gets up and they’re standing in front of their family and bowing, I cry. I’m a total mess about it. There’s something about your family being able to witness you do what you love and the gratitude you feel for what they gave you to be able to do this. It gets me every single time.

SEE IT: “An American in Paris”
March 22-April 9, Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, 800.982.2787 :: hollywoodpantages.com
April 25-May 7, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Costa Mesa, 714.556.2787 :: scfta.org

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