Robert Fairchild may be dancing through the streets of Paris every night at the Palace Theatre, but there is one part of the City of Lights that the newly-minted leading man cannot find in New York.
"Almond croissants," Fairchild said without hesitating when asked if he missed anything from Paris, where the musical first premiered at the Theatre Du Chatelet. "There was a bakery right next to the theatre, so on a five [minute break] you'd just walk into the cold and grab a croissant... it just melted in your mouth. I've yet to find one here, but the search is on."
A principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, Fairchild plays Jerry Mulligan, an American veteran and painter living in Paris who falls in love with Lise, a young Parisian shop girl with a secret past. The role of Jerry was first created in the 1951 film by Gene Kelly, the musically gifted leading man who inspired Fairchild to pursue a career in dance.
"He was the inspiration for me," Fairchild said of Kelly. "When you're a little kid in Salt Lake City, Utah, and you have that dancing bug, to have somebody like Gene Kelly — who was who he was and did what he did..."
Fairchild said he began dancing because his sister, Megan Fairchild, currently starring in On the Town, pursued it, but it wasn't until he saw "Singin' in the Rain," starring Kelly, that he knew he wanted to pursue dance seriously.
"That moment when he's tap-dancing in the rain — it's so iconic," Fairchild said. "I saw it when I was really young, and the charisma, the dynamics he had in his dancing and his likability as a character — you just can't help but fall in love with him.
"I saw my future," he added, "and what I hoped I'd get lucky enough to do."
Despite his admiration of Kelly, Fairchild emphasized that he is not attempting to imitate him or re-create the performance from the film.
"I want to do what Craig [Lucas] has in mind," he said. "I want his words to come to life when we're onstage in the way he wants to see it. He's done such a beautiful job paying tribute to the movie. It's the story that we're doing, but it's a new musical at the same time... it's really cool to get that opportunity to create someone new while tipping my hat at the greats."
The stage adaptation of An American in Paris takes place following Wold War II. Fairchild said the setting is crucial to the musical, emphasizing the characters' freedom. The dance-filled production is directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon.
A First Look at Robert Fairchild, Leanne Cope, Jill Paice and Max von Essen in the Broadway-Bound An American in Paris
"Paris has been liberated. It makes it really real and really fresh," Fairchild said, adding, "[The company] just came back from Paris and we were walking around the streets, thinking of what it was like back then."
Despite the decades that have passed, the story of An American in Paris is universal to Fairchild, who said, "I don't want to do just another love story. I want to do something that's fresh and different, and I feel like because of where this is set and where we are, it's pertinent... It's us, it's people who are in the 21st century who are here pursuing that art, that one person they just can't get out of their head and fighting some darker issues than we struggle with today. "Unfortunately we're still in wars and hardships and you have to bounce out of and I think that's what makes it not just your everyday average love story. It comes from such a heavy place that it makes it so hopeful and so not cheesy in my mind."
(Carey Purcell is the Features Editor of Playbill.com. Her work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com as well as in the pages of Playbill magazine. Follow her on Twitter @PlaybillCarey.)