As a principal dancer for New York City Ballet, Robert Fairchild plays celebrated lead roles in the highly esteemed company. But he’s always had his heart set on becoming a leading man on Broadway.
Fairchild will have that opportunity when he steps into the iconic role created on film by Gene Kelly in Broadway's adaptation of “An American in Paris.”
And Fairchild’s sister, Megan Fairchild, also a New York City Ballet principal dancer, will portray Miss Turnstiles, a role created on film by Vera-Ellen, in the revival of “On the Town” on Broadway — although Megan Fairchild said she “never in a million years thought I’d be on Broadway.”
The two Utah natives recognize the rare success in the ballet world that began with training under Kaelynne Oliphant and Rebecca Bateman in a dance school in Murray that led to Ballet West and then the training ground of the New York City corps de ballet before they danced their way to the revered principal dancer status in the company.
And they find it difficult to explain their enthusiasm for their debut roles as leads in two major Broadway productions.
“Musical theater is something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t know if it was possible,” Robert Fairchild said. “I didn’t ever think I would be in a ballet company, but here I am at the New York City Ballet. And now on to Broadway. It’s all so perfect, so I guess it was meant to be. I’m thrilled for this phase of my career.”
While perfecting his craft as a ballet dancer, performing on stage and with daily dance classes with the company, Robert Fairchild also took private lessons from a voice coach and Broadway-style classes alongside other dancers maintaining their technique for roles on the Great White Way.
"Everyone keeps telling me, ‘You’re going to have the time of your life,’ ” said Megan Fairchild, who said she is astonished at the turn of events.
“I never saw this in my future ever — ever,” she said. “(Robert Fairchild) suggested that the producers of ‘On the Town’ contact me while they were looking for a dancer. And I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, that is so crazy.’ I laughed about it for a day. But then I woke up the next morning with, ‘You know, why not?’ I decided to take it as a way to get out of my comfort zone.”
With only two days to prepare for the audition, she had two quick sessions with an acting coach and previewed her audition song with a personal friend, Jackie Burns, who performed as Elphaba in the Broadway cast of “Wicked.”
Megan Fairchild was cast immediately following the audition.
“I left the audition room and then they came out and offered me the role,” she said. “And I thought, ‘What? What did you say?’ It took me a minute to understand what they were saying to me. They mentioned that I’d be making my Broadway debut in the show, and I said, ‘Wait. This is my Broadway audition debut.’ It was so shocking.”
Megan Fairchild had never sung in public prior to the audition, and “my parents think I’m a horrible singer,” she said. “I told the producers before I auditioned that I don’t sing, but they liked that I’m an untrained singer. Apparently this isn’t a role that requires principal Broadway singing, big belts and voice techniques like that.”
While they found their first professional success in the ballet world, as a family, the Fairchilds saw Broadway touring shows as season subscribers of Capitol Theatre productions while growing up, and movie musicals were also frequently viewed in their home.
“My mom really loves Broadway,” Megan Fairchild said. “She’s always been very supportive of both of us in ballet, but her love was Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire and all those types of musicals.”
“Whenever we were renting VHS tapes from Blockbuster, my mother would also grab one of the classic film musicals,” Robert Fairchild said. “As a guy growing up in Utah, I was never as exposed to Broadway dancing as much as others might have been. I was just blown away by the dancing I saw through those musicals.”
With the training Robert Fairchild has pursued leading to his turn on Broadway, he is anxious to take on his role.
“My strongest suit is as a dancer telling a story through movement,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m the most classical dancer at New York City Ballet. So the role in ‘An American in Paris’ seems to be the perfect fit. I am so excited to be a part of this, and I believe it’s going to be an incredible show. We have an incredible team behind the scenes and onstage.”
In an email to the New York Times, Christopher Wheeldon, director of “An American in Paris,” described the search for the principal performers as “extensive and challenging.” He said Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope, who will play the role created by Leslie Caron, “will, I think, surprise the audience with their abilities to be what is called on Broadway a triple threat.”
“The fact that (Robert Fairchild) and I are going to be on Broadway at the same time is just unreal,” Megan Fairchild said.
“On the Town” will have an Oct. 16 opening at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre. Following its November premiere in Paris, “An American in Paris” will open April 12 at the Palace Theatre.
Yet there is additional news of family members performing on Broadway: Robert’s wife, fellow New York City Ballet principal dancer Tiler Peck, will star in acclaimed director-choreographer Susan Stroman’s “Little Dancer,” which will premiere in October at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., before an anticipated Broadway opening.