In the world of ballet, The Nutcracker is sort of a gateway drug. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon danced his first Nutcracker when he was 11, with London’s Royal Ballet. After he moved to the U.S., he danced the Balanchine production with the New York City Ballet.
“If I’m going to approach a classic like The Nutcracker, how can I put my stamp on it?” Wheeldon asked. “You know, why is it worthwhile to look at this?”
The key for him was setting the new production in Chicago — specifically at the famous World’s Fair of 1893, a period that’s actually contemporaneous with the original ballet. Doing research, Wheeldon came across a photograph of a worker’s shack, surrounded by towering buildings under construction.
It seemed preordained that Robert Fairchild would one day play Jerry Mulligan, the World War II vet and expat artist portrayed by Gene Kelly in the 1951 film An American in Paris. “Without Gene Kelly, I wouldn’t be dancing,” says Fairchild, a principal at New York City Ballet. “In Singin’ in the Rain—my God, he’s incredible. I saw An American in Paris later on, and it’s the same magic.” Onstage, Fairchild—who started out doing jazz and tap before following his sister to ballet class—strongly calls to mind the Hollywood legend. “He’s handsome, slightly cheeky,” and has a “nonchalant, casual ease,” says Christopher Wheeldon
Imperious stepmother Hortensia (Larissa Lezhnina) hits the bottle, with delicious timing. When she rips off Cinderella’s mask in a drunken rage, the girl flees, belatedly aware of a deadline, leaving her gold pointe shoe behind.
An American In Paris opens officially tonight at the Palace Theatre!
The new musical, with music and lyrics by George & Ira Gershwin and book by Craig Lucas is directed and choreographed by Chirstopher Wheeldon. The cast includes Robert Fairchild, Jill Paice, Leanne Cope, Veanne Cox, Brandon Uranowitz & Max von Essen.