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BWW Interview: Robert Fairchild Previews BEST IN SHOWS Humane Society Benefit!

Having made his Broadway debut last spring in An American in Paris, Robert Fairchild is now prepping for his entrée into cabaret. He's on the roster of performers in this Sunday's "Best in Shows: A Benefit for the Humane Society" at 54 Below, along with Sutton Foster, Annaleigh Ashford, Andrea McArdle, Michael Arden, Joanna Gleason, Hugh Panaro and Orfeh.

The Humane Society will present Joel Grey with the Sandy Award, a new award to be given annually to an artist who advocates for animal rights, at the benefit--which will be hosted by Seth Rudetsky (also its music director). Showtime is 7 p.m. on Nov. 1. Click here for more information.

BroadwayWorld spoke with Fairchild--a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and Tony nominee for American in Paris--about his cabaret debut and his puppy love.

Why were you recruited for this benefit?
Pretty much every other post I do on Instagram is of my two dogs. I'm a very proud and public dog owner.

Tell us about your "babies."
A toy Australian shepherd named Griz--he's 5 years old, and he has an older sister named Cali. She's a Maltipoo, and she's 6 years old. Griz was mine before my wife [New York City Ballet prima ballerina Tiler Peck] and I got together, and she had hers. They were forced into a relationship.

Have they always gotten along?
There's never been any outbreaks. My dog's dominant and hers is submissive, and it's a boy and a girl. He protects her, and they bring out the best in each other. She's better with people, he's better with dogs. I think since being together, he's gotten better with people and she's gotten better with dogs.
When we first got together, they were sitting on opposite sides of the room. I think my dog tried to instigate some sort of play, and she wanted nothing to do with it. So he just found a toy and sat in the corner: "Alright, I'll give her her space..."

Robert Fairchild and Tiler Peck with Griz (standing) and Cali
on their wedding day in June 2014
[photo by Charlotte Jenks Lewis]

Griz and Cali are in your wedding pictures. Did they take part in the ceremony?
I wanted them to, like, be the ring bearers, but it was in a chapel from the 1790s, and I didn't feel comfortable asking if that was a possibility [laughs].

Have they attended your performances?
They'll be in our dressing room during our shows. I've thought to myself, They've always heard the music I'm dancing to, but they only see me changing into a costume and then going on stage. I don't think they've heard me over the loudspeaker singing. It's kind of a fun idea thinking that they can hear me.

How did Griz come into your life?
I had wanted a dog for a long time, but I had had roommates and it wasn't feasible--they didn't want dogs. I moved out on my own, [and] just a few months later, I went over to my friends' apartment and they had just gotten this dog. The dog came up to me and just started showering me with kisses, and it felt like one of those a-ha! moments: "This is the kind of dog I want." And literally a week later I had mine. I texted the breeder, who was in West Virginia, and asked if she had any little guys available. She did, and sent me pictures. I knew the moment I saw the little guy, we were meant to be. He was three months old, and he needed a place to go.

Did you have a dog growing up?
Always. Always.

Other pets, too?
No, just dogs. I mean, I had a frog once, but that's about it.

Fairchild and Leanne Cope in Broadway's An American in Paris
[photo by Angela Sterling]

What will you be singing at the benefit?
I'm going to be performing "Isn't It a Pity?" It's Gershwin, and it's actually what I used to audition for An American in Paris. I thought it was so fitting because the lyrics are: "It's a funny thing / I look at you and get a thrill I never knew / Isn't it a pity that we never met before?" I'm just thinking about the bond that you create with your dog--that moment where you're his, he's yours, and you can't imagine life without them. And the countless dogs that are at the shelters that are waiting for their owner, and once they finally meet, isn't it a pity that time we didn't get to spend together that we were both here? That's kind of the thought for me. When I was preparing with Rob Fisher for my audition for American in Paris, he said, "Do this one like you're singing to Griz." And I think about him whenever I hear that song, because I think about the times being in his studio and singing to my dog.

Have you done any special rehearsing since this will be your first cabaret performance?
I'm working with my group of people that I always go to to help prepare for things. I've been singing Gershwin for, like, 300 shows, and I'm singing about my dog so it just comes from the heart.

Have you gone to see shows at 54 Below?
Oh, yeah, I love going there. I saw a kind of sing-through of A Man of No Importance with Marin Mazzie, and I thought that was amazing. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty had their, I think, 30-year celebration. I saw a bunch of performers come and tribute them. My wife has been working on Little Dancer with Susan Stroman, with music by Flaherty and Ahrens.

In New York City, even people without pets can be cramped in their apartments. Are the four of you able to cohabit comfortably?
Yeah, there's enough room. I've always thought that if you give your dog enough time, the city is probably one of the most stimulating places you can be for them. The amount of smells that they must smell on the sidewalks, the amount of people that they get to meet, the stores they go into--they're exposed to so much in the city. And then you've got the parks, you've got the dog runs. It's like they have the most at their paws, I guess you would say--not fingertips--in creating a varied, interesting life. It's not the usual just-throw-'em-in-the-backyard; it's an experience that you get to have with your dog, experiencing the city together, because there's no option for them to just go somewhere and run around. You do it with them--which is fun, and it creates such a bond.

Do they have any favorite places in the city?
When we walk past our bank around the corner, they always tug, because they know that every time we go in to deposit a check, they get one of the treats from there. Any place that they've been given treats before, when we pass by the door, if we don't go there, they start to pull towards the door.

Do you have "help" taking care of them?
Thank god for dog walkers. Whether I'm on Broadway in American in Paris or I'm at the New York City Ballet dancing, my body is my only means of making a show happen for me, so I can't be going on crazy-long walks. I do as much as I can with them when I can, but I've been very grateful to have some great dog walkers who take care of them for me.

What difference can a pet dog make in the life of a performer?
They are just as excited to see you every time you walk in that door, no matter if you thought you screwed up in a show, no matter how great the show was, whether you had just come from the Tonys, whether you just came from rehearsal... It's such a grounding ritual of coming home after the show and going on a walk with your dog. Life can get really flashy, and it can start going really fast, but to have that time with your best friend just walking down the street so they can go to the bathroom, it takes it back to the basics, and I love them so much. I think they're part of the family. A lot of my time is spent thinking how I can change up the days for them. This is their life, too; I want them to see something other than their usual walk route and the inside of the apartment. So, what little things can I do to make their day interesting? They get so excited when they get to go to one of the ballet studios. They don't need much, they just want time, and they're so sweet.

You've now been doing American in Paris for nearly a year, including the pre-Broadway tryout in Paris itself last winter. How have you found a long run in a theater role compares with the ballet roles you've danced over and over?
I feel like I've done more American in Paris shows than I have ever done of Nutcracker--and I started doing Nutcracker when I was, like, 9. If you think about, I have done Nutcracker all my life--whether I'm a little kid or I'm the Prince dancing with the Sugar Plum Fairy. So in one year to have done a show more than I've done The Nutcracker is quite a statement. But I love the story that we've been given by Craig Lucas, I love the choreography that I get to dance, and that music--that Gershwin music--does not get old. It's just so beautiful, and I find that to be my constant inspiration. And the idea that I'm doing a part that Gene Kelly originated in the movie. Nobody else has done the role of Jerry Mulligan besides me, and to have that kind of close proximity to the man who made me want to dance is a huge, huge pleasure.

It really was Gene Kelly who got you dancing?
One Valentine's Day, Gene Kelly had passed away--I'd never seen one of his movies--and my mom bought me a VHS of Singin' in the Rain. And I remember seeing it and just being so captivated. So I always say, my sister got me into dance, and Gene Kelly's the reason I wanted to become a dancer.

Top photo by Matthew Murphy

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