Actors Kirsten Scott and Matthew Scott are married in real life, but they’ve only played love interests onstage together once. It was five years ago in New York, where they performed opposite each other in a scene from “Carousel” in a musical theater retrospective.
“It was kind of hilarious in the first couple rehearsals how we had absolutely no chemistry,” says Kirsten, 32. “It was like, ‘I know all your tricks, all your little ’isms [when flirting].’ Once we rehearsed it together in our living room and allowed each other to just laugh in each other’s faces, we found it.”
“The good news is, we don’t play love interests in this show,” Matthew, 35, jokes.
The couple actually play friends in the national tour of the Tony-winning 2015 musical “An American in Paris,” now at the Kennedy Center. In the show, set in 1945 Paris, Kirsten is Milo, an American heiress who’s putting on a ballet written by Adam (Matthew), an American soldier who stayed in France following the liberation of Paris. Their characters go on parallel journeys in the story: Milo pursues another American vet, Jerry (McGee Maddox), while Adam pines for Lise (Allison Walsh). Unfortunately, Jerry and Lise only have eyes for each other.
Unlike the cheery, Technicolor 1951 Gene Kelly movie the show is based on, this stage version doesn’t shy away from the trauma of the recent war. The curtain opens not on a big musical number, but on a monologue from Adam about the post-liberation mood. “My character is ravaged by what he’s seen,” Matthew says. “It was dark for four years and people were afraid for their lives — they still heard gunshots in the night.”
That’s why while they’re in D.C., the couple plans to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Kirsten has never been, and both are certain it will affect their performances.
“After seeing the images and going through what I’ve heard is a very beautifully done museum, those moments of darkness in the show will weigh heavier on our hearts,” she says.
That experience, plus living in what Kirsten calls “the bulls— that’s happening to our country right now,” will make one moment of “An American in Paris” hit especially close to home. It’s toward the end of Act II, when Adam has a revelation about the ballet he’s been struggling to write.
“He wants to create something that reflects the time he just witnessed, so he’s trying to make something dark, tumultuous,” Matthew says. “Ultimately, he realizes from Milo, from Jerry, from Lise that he has to create something beautiful to lift people out of this spell. … The line is: ‘Life is already so dark, but if you’ve got the talent to make it brighter, to give people joy and hope, why would you withhold that?’ That’s our obligation, too.”
It’s also a rare scene that Matthew and Kirsten share onstage together.
“It’s one moment as a wife that I’m so proud of him because he’s found that light through the darkness,” Kirsten says. “Also as Milo, I’m happy that my composer has finally finished the score. It’s twofold, and I get to have a lovely little proud moment that I disguise as Milo’s moment.”
Right after Adam delivers the line, he and Milo walk offstage arm in arm. “That’s actually the staging of the moment, it has nothing to do with Kirsten and Matt,” Matthew says.
“You think that you can’t surprise your partner anymore because you’ve seen it all,” Kirsten says, “but getting to stand backstage and seeing his work every night and being surprised by him is so great.”
Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; through Jan. 7, $59-$175.
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