Gershwin is in the air.
Just a few days before the national tour of "An American in Paris" hits The Bushnell, there's another dance spectacle visiting Connecticut that features the immortal songs of George and Ira Gershwin.
Both shows feature Gershwin songs first popularized by Fred Astaire. But that's where the similarities end. "An American in Paris" has an all-Gershwin score that propels an original romance story set in post-war France.
"Carefree — Dancin' With Fred & Ginger" is a musical revue paying tribute to songs and style of Astaire and his co-star in a host of classic Hollywood musicals, Ginger Rogers. It includes such Gershwin classics as "Slap That Bass," but also songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and others. It visits the Garde Arts Center in New London on Saturday, Nov. 12.
"We pay homage to Fred and Ginger," explains the show's leading man, Jared Grimes. "My character is a reflection of characters Fred would play in his movies — a guy who's looking to dance, release his frustrations and partner with a beautiful lady. We reinvent what he did and replicate what he did. We say 'Fred would have done this,' then try to do it. It's a wild ride down Memory Lane."
Grimes says he "kind of grew up watching Fred Astaire. They'd show the old movies on the Disney Channel after 2 a.m. He was one of the first tap dancers I began to study when I was 5 years old."
As a dancer, Grimes has toured with Mariah Carey and worked with Gregory Hines, Ben Vereen and Jerry Lewis. He was the associate choreographer for the Tupac Shakur musical "Holler if Ya Hear Me" and did an acclaimed "Singing in the Rain" routine in the 2015 "New York Spring Spectacular" at Radio City Music Hall. Before stepping into the shoes of Fred Astaire in "Carefree," Grimes won a 2014 Fred and Adele Astaire Award for outstanding male dancer.
"Carefree" has Grimes "jumping in and out of the movies. I dance with mops, brooms, tables, chairs. I'm a playground kid, a risk-taker." As for his singing, "I do not sound like Fred at all. I found my own style. I would never want to be a mockery of what he did. I think he would look down at me doing this, and smile and say 'Oh, cool.'"
Hayley Podschun, who played Lila in the Irving Berlin musical "Holiday Inn" at the Goodspeed Opera House in 2014 and has toured nationally in "Wicked" and "Hairspray," is Grimes' main dance partner in the show. "We're basically being ourselves, with the essence of Fred and Ginger here and there," she says.
"Carefree" has "a classic Hollywood beauty," Podschun says. "I have at least five costume changes. There are six of us in the company — we all sing and dance, and we're all featured."
The other performers include Donna McKechnie (from the original 1975 Broadway production of "A Chorus Line"), David Elder, Drew King and Tessa Grady.
"Carefree" came about when director and choreographer Warren Carlyle acquired the rights to material from the nine movies Astaire and Rogers made for RKO Pictures in the 1930s. Carlyle's Broadway choreography credits include "After Midnight" (the show for which both he and Grimes won Fred and Adele Astaire awards) and "A Christmas Story — The Musical" and recent revivals of "She Loves Me" and "On the Twentieth Century," He's done several shows at for Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut, including "Lucky Guy," "The Pirates of Penzance" and "The Baker's Wife."
"Carefree" has been doing just a handful of shows, testing the project, before deciding to do a grander tour. "This is a new type of theater," Grimes says. "It doesn't feel like a revue. It's still evolving. We wanted to get it up and see what it was. It's really cool to see what it does to who."
"There are 28 songs in the show," Podschun says. One of her solos is the old standard "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" by Gus Edwards and Edward Madden. (Astaire and Rogers danced to it in "The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle."). She also does Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields' "Pick Yourself Up," from the film "Swing Time." For another Kern tune, "I Won't Dance," Grimes and Podschun dance alongside large-screen images of Astaire and Rogers. The show's live band consists of two pianos, bass, drums and a harp.
Does Podschun believe the saying that "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels"?
"…And in a long gown," Podschun says, laughing. "They leave that part out."
CAREFREE — DANCIN' WITH FRED & GINGER, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, is at the Garde Arts Center, 325 State St., New London, 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12. Tickets are $40 to $64, with some $120 student seats available. 860-444-7373 and gardearts.org.