Ballet on Broadway? 'On the Town' Star Megan Fairchild on Making the Leap

Joan Marcus
Megan Fairchild in 'On the Town'

The New York City Ballet principal dancer is en pointe this season as beauty queen Ivy Smith

One of the stars of On The Town is finding herself in a very different part of the city than she's used to, as theatergoers are watching a kind of musical number that's rare to Broadway.

"I've got a wig and a padded bra on, and all of a sudden, I'm doing a coupe jete ménage — those are hard steps!" New York City Ballet dancer-turned-Broadway actress Megan Fairchild tells The Hollywood Reporter. "What ballet dancers do is incredibly not normal; it's all of these contradictory things we do to make a beautiful line. ... [If audiences] don't know what they're seeing me do, that's totally fine. I hope it's catching people off-guard in a good way."

While dream ballets are featured in musicals like the Rodgers and Hammerstein classics Oklahoma! and Carousel, such interludes are less common on Broadway these days. That makes the dance-centric On the Town a refreshing change of pace, and an ideal vehicle for Fairchild to expand her range.

Read more 'On the Town': Theater Review

Fairchild has two numbers in director John Rando's revival of the Leonard Bernstein musical at New York City's Lyric Theatre. On the Town is choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, channeling the original work of Jerome Robbins, who collaborated with Bernstein and writer-lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green to expand the show from Robbins' ballet Fancy Free.

It was Fairchild's brother and fellow NYCB principal dancer Robert Fairchild — currently preparing for his own Broadway debut in An American in Paris in March — who told her she was being considered for On the Town. "That's so flattering, but I don't sing," she recalls saying. "The next morning, I thought, 'That's crazy — just go audition, this is the chance of a lifetime!'" After a weekend of singing and acting lessons, she was immediately offered the role of Ivy Smith.

Fairchild takes a lighter, more high-pitched approach to the Miss Turnstiles subway beauty queen character than Vera-Ellen did in the 1949 film, starring Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. "I just did me, trying to be as natural as possible — it's just the voice that came out when I started reading the lines," admits the inherently bubbly NYCB principal.

Yet her jump from the Upper West Side arts establishment to the Broadway scene is much steeper. "At the ballet, there's more of a seriousness to the fact that there's a legacy, and you're trying to put your stamp on roles that have been done for the last seventy years," she explains of her work at NYCB. "The audience is a little bit more specifically educated in the ballets you've done, and they've seen the last several over the years, so you have to really live up to being worthy of doing that part."

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Since making her Broadway debut, Fairchild has relished the relatively casual ritual of bowing. "At the ballet, you bow like a princess, like royalty, and that's part of the mystery you generate when being a ballerina," she says. "Now I'm just going out and being me." She also enjoys meeting fans outside the stage door ("It's maybe a more jaded audience at the ballet, they're not going to be fanatical about it") and aiming for laughs instead of applause during a performance. She admits: "Sometimes I have a hard time being incredibly serious at the ballet. I like to laugh off the pressure of it all."

Between eight performances a week, Fairchild fills her schedule with a strict regimen of chiropractor visits, physical therapy sessions, gyrotonics and pilates workouts — and, of course, ballet classes.

"It feels so good on my body to do a class — just to hear the classical music and do plies," she says. "I'm loving what I'm doing at night — it's like a party onstage and backstage, and we've become a family — and in the mornings, I go to ballet classes and it feels glorious. I'm appreciating it more than I would have, and when I go back, I'm gonna soak up every little minute of it. Having the contrast makes me appreciate both worlds."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee

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