'American in Paris' finds its inspiration in ballet.

AuthorKennedy, Mark

Byline: Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK -- He is American. She is English. He is a newlywed. So is she. Both are top-notch ballet dancers. And they're both leaping onto a different stage.

Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope are making their Broadway debuts playing the leads in a musical adapted from the 1951 Gene Kelly film "An American in Paris.''

Fairchild, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, and Cope, a first artist at The Royal Ballet, are singing and speaking dialogue in addition to getting their bodies ready to dance eight shows a week.

"To get this opportunity is the coolest thing in the world,'' said Fairchild. "I always love a challenge and this has been so much fun and so rewarding to get to push myself in ways I don't get to do every day at the ballet.''

The dancers were brought together by Christopher Wheeldon, one of the world's top choreographers, who is making his debut as a Broadway director.

Fairchild was always high on Wheeldon's list for the role of Jerry Mulligan, an ex-soldier who is trying to make a living as an artist in Paris. The two men had worked together before and Fairchild jumped at the new chance. After all, Kelly movies had inspired him to dance in the first place.

Wheeldon decided on casting Cope as Lise, Mulligan's love interest, after an impromptu singing audition. He said there was always something magical about her -- "Your eye always went to her'' -- but he needed to know if she could handle the vocal responsibilities.

He asked if she could sing. She said no, unless you count the shower. So after impressing with some line reading, Wheeldon coaxed Cope into a dressing room shower at the Royal Opera House and she sang "The Man I Love.''

"It was a very raw voice, but very pure and beautiful,'' recalls Wheeldon. "I said, 'OK, this is potentially one big messy risk but let's go for it.'''

The musical, which includes the Gershwin songs "I Got Rhythm'' and "S'Wonderful,'' had a stop in Paris this winter and...

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