A big-time dancer will step into the ballet slippers in “Little Dancer,” the musical inspired by a famous Edgar Degas subject that will have its world premiere at the Kennedy Center a year from October as one of the few such original ventures in the center’s history.
Tiler Peck, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet since 2009, will play the title role in the musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, songwriters of “Ragtime,” “Once on This Island” and “Seussical.” The center also announced Thursday that the production, which was directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman (“The Producers”), will feature Broadway veterans Boyd Gaines as Degas and Rebecca Luker as an older version of the character Peck will portray.
That would be Marie von Goethem, the 14-year-old student of the Paris Opera Ballet who posed in the early 1880s for Degas’s yellow wax sculpture “Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen.” The celebrated work is in the collection of the National Gallery of Art.
“The show is so beautiful, and I’m not just saying this because I’m in it,” the California-born Peck said by telephone. “The story is so touching. It’s one of those shows that’s unique, not like anything that’s been out recently.”
Peck, who as an 11-year-old appeared as Mayor Shinn’s youngest daughter, Gracie, in the revival of “The Music Man” that ran on Broadway in 2000-01, furthers a crossover tradition between ballet and musical theater. The Broadway choreographer and director Jerome Robbins devised a total of 54 ballets for the New York City Ballet; the frequent company choreographer Christopher Wheeldon created the dancing for the short-lived 2002 musical adaptation of “Sweet Smell of Success,” and prima ballerina Natalia Makarova won a Tony Award in 1983 for her performance in “On Your Toes.”
It was Stroman, a sometime choreographer for the New York City Ballet, who invited Peck to participate in a workshop of “Little Dancer” last year after Peck expressed interest. “I’ve always kept up my singing and acting lessons,” said Peck, who as a child appeared in commercials and movies. “In ‘Music Man,’ I was the one who came out and sang the first line, ‘Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’, ’ ” she added with a giggle.
The ballerina said she approached Peter Martins, the New York City Ballet’s longtime ballet master in chief, with Stroman’s offer in hopes of working around her ballet schedule. “I went and asked Peter. I said, ‘Susan is offering me this job, it’s going to be at the Kennedy Center and she’s willing to work with you.’ They actually spoke on the phone, and I’m going to do double duty. They’re going to split my time.”
Rehearsals and performances of “Little Dancer” in next fall will take Peck away from some of the seasonal run of “The Nutcracker,” but she will be back with the company for the latter portion of the holiday production, she said.
Peck is planning another production: Her marriage to fellow company member Robert Fairchild. She laughed at the complex logistical issues of next year. “We are trying to do it before all this happens,” she said of the wedding plans for spring.