An American in Paris - London

The Academy Award-winning film is born anew on stage.

London Star Ashley Day on Reclaiming His Dancing Roots in An American in Paris in the West End

London Star Ashley Day on Reclaiming His Dancing Roots in An American in Paris in the West End
Ashley Day
(Photo: Darren Bell)

Ashley Day has appeared in Evita, Mary Poppins, and as Elder Price in The Book of Mormon in the West End. Now, the English musical theater triple-threat has danced his way into the star part of Jerry Mulligan in An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre, following on from Tony nominee Robert Fairchild, who came to London to open the West End production in the spring. The chatty and affable 31-year-old took time one recent afternoon to talk about his little-known past as a dancer and why he isn't looking to the future just now.

How does it feel now that you have landed the male lead in An American in Paris?
It’s a funny thing when you get a job a year before you fully take over: I feel as if each step of the way has been a countdown to get to this place, so that I’ve gone from doing two shows a week [as the alternate Jerry] to seven. I knew with the team here—even when I was performing twice a week—that it was about getting me in tip-top shape so that I wouldn’t fatigue myself when it came time to do seven.

Had you seen the production on Broadway?
Not until I got the job and started training. That was quite a surreal night seeing what I was going to be doing—not just to examine the breaks or lack of breaks but how exhausting it was going to be and at the same time how thrilling!

Was it a challenge having Robbie [Fairchild] in the rehearsal room here in London, given his established success in this same role?
What I really gained from being around Robbie was advice on partnering techniques and stuff like that, but I tried in some ways not to watch him. The thing in the rehearsal studio was that he was re-finding his Jerry and I was in the beginning process of finding mine, and we come from very different backgrounds, so I just tried to stay out of sight a little bit.

What about tips on how to pace yourself?
Those had largely to do with things like resting and the stretching out. The one thing I do identical to Robbie is that my amazing dresser, Gavin, fills a bucket with ice and I stand in it as much as I can. I’m wearing jazz shoes that are not very thick for two and a half hours, so my feet get sore and red. There’s very little recovery time, especially after a matinee, so [ice] seems to be the best way for me to sort myself out.

Did you feel at a disadvantage coming from a background in musical theater?
I actually started off dancing when I was three: it was the stereotypical “I can do that” (from A Chorus Line) story, with me watching my sister and wanting to join in—that’s how it started. Later on, I was a junior associate at the Royal Ballet when I was nine, and there were two points growing up where I nearly went down the Royal Ballet route, so my career would have been very different. In a way, it’s great that what I’ve done has led me to this point because I’m drawing on that training now.

What were auditions like?
There was a moment when I stopped them and said, “This is why I started: this love of dance is why I’m doing what I’m doing and everything came off this.” [British director-choreographer] Matthew Bourne came and saw the show last week and said, “It’s so nice to see you dancing properly again.” My first job was Liquorice Man in his Nutcracker when I had just turned 17. 

Were you aware of being the odd man out, in a way, in the room?
Well, my second-to-last audition, I was in a room with eight guys all from ballet! That was the strangest day of my life—surrounded by people from such a different world. The same session was also the first time I met Chris [Wheeldon, the show’s Tony-winning choreographer and also its director], and I remember saying to my agent, “I’ll eat my hat if they give me this job.” But I was told, “Just keep on doing what you’re doing,” and I danced for Chris, who told me, “That’s great but do it your way”—which was the first time I thought maybe I do have a shot.

Did you bring any firsthand knowledge of Paris to the job?
I’ve been to the city quite a few times and know it quite well, and I also knew the [Gene Kelly-Leslie Caron] film well, so I was aware of the truth of what they portray in the show about Paris after WWII. It wasn’t just kids in the street singing “I Got Rhythm”—far from it.  I really found my Jerry through knowing the city in which he moves, and also art is a huge part of my life, so there are a quite a few parallels with Jerry for me.

Will you be going to the Royal Albert Hall on August 11 to see Robbie and your castmate David Seadon-Young play Will Parker and Jud Fry, respectively, in the BBC Proms concert performance of Oklahoma!?
I was asked to be a part of it [Day played Curly on a U.K. tour], but this job needs all my attention every hour of every day. Luckily there’s an afternoon performance that I can see and still be back onstage for An American in Paris in the evening. I just know it’s going to be amazing: Scarlett [Strallen, who is playing Laurey] is one of my favorites. She’s such a lovely lady.

Is New York on your radar, given the number of Broadway musicals you have done in the U.K.?
I’ve been seven times and I’m going again in October! I’ve got a list of things I want to see, including stuff I can’t even say I haven’t seen yet. I still haven’t seen Hamilton, which I think is shocking and wrong, but the week I was there last year was also Lin [Manuel Miranda]’s last week, so it was impossible.

Have you thought of other roles once you finish playing Jerry?
I feel like I’ve only just got my head into this. There aren’t many roles where someone gets to do all disciplines. One of my dream roles growing up was Bobby Child [in Crazy for You], but now that doesn’t seem anywhere near as exciting as this!