Buried in a box in the National Archives was a piece of music hidden for almost a century.
“It was a Gershwin song that had never been played before,” says dancer Robert Fairchild of the find. “It was underneath stacks of old paper, so we’re using it for the show.”
The show Fairchild is referring to is “Gershwin on Broadway,” a concert revue coming to San Diego on Friday and Saturday that’s part of San Diego Symphony’s Bayside Summer Nights. The concert will feature the music of legendary American composer George Gershwin. The force behind some of the most iconic musicals and songs in history, George and his brother Ira are responsible for classics ranging from “Rhapsody in Blue” to “Porgy and Bess.”
“What’s fun is that we’re doing his earliest work and his latest work,” says Fairchild, who delivers triple duty dancing, singing and acting in the production, which will also feature Broadway veteran Norm Lewis, soprano Aundi Marie Moore and the San Diego Master Chorale.
The show — which will include classic Gershwin compositions such as the season-appropriate “Summertime” and the sultry “It Ain’t Necessarily So” — will feature rare works like the long-lost Gershwin composition the show’s director, Robert Fisher, found after sitting through the composer’s archives in Washington, D.C.
“Rob added it in as part of ‘Fascinating Rhythm’,” says Fairchild of the 1924 song that was originally introduced with the help of the iconic stage duo of Fred and Adele Astaire. “When I first heard it, I was like, ‘What is this?’ It caught my ear and is an amazing part of the song. It’s so jazzy. I’m still in the process of choreographing that part.”
For Fairchild, performing a composition that had Fred Astaire dancing is the latest chapter in a multifaceted and wildly successful stage career that was initially inspired when Fairchild was in third grade and saw Gene Kelly strut his stuff in the 1952 classic “Singin’ in the Rain.” In the years since, his greatest stage triumph came as the star of the 2015 revival of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris,” which scored him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in Musical and bevy of wins, including a prestigious Drama Desk Award.
“I try to not read too much into the awards,” says Fairchild of the string of honors. “When I won a Drama Desk for Best Featured Actor in a Musical, that was so unbelievably gratifying because I worked my butt off for two years doing a full ballet rehearsal schedule as well as taking singing lessons and acting lessons every chance I could. It made me really proud of myself that I made the effort and it paid off. The fact that people liked it was just the bonus.”
The Gershwin production also comes at a transitional period in Fairchild’s impressive career. Last fall, he made headlines when he left his longtime perch as a principal dancer at the New York City Ballet. A member of the ballet since 2009, it was an exit spurred by Fairchild’s desire to to spread his creative wings, whether trying his luck on-screen, in a well-received Off Broadway production of “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” last winter or in touring productions like “Gershwin on Broadway.”
“Rob said he was going to do this evening at the San Diego Symphony and asked if I wanted to come. I said, ‘100 percent, count me in,’” explains Fairchild, who’s been painstakingly prepping for the production. “They needed to find someone to sing, dance and act.” He could do the latter two, “so Rob and I worked together a lot to train this ballet dancer how to sing for a paying audience. All three disciplines are difficult, though.”
Not that Fairchild wasn’t born for this opportunity.
“They have this saying,” he explains. “When there’s no words to speak, you sing. When there’s no song to sing, you dance.”
San Diego Symphony Bayside Summer Nights: “Gershwin on Broadway,” featuring “An American in Paris” and “Porgy and Bess”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Where: Embarcadero Marina Park South, 200 Marina Park Way, San Diego
Phone: (619) 235-0804
LeDonne is a freelance writer.