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A Day in the Life of Rob McClure of ‘Something Rotten!’

Category Broadway

|by Jeryl Brunner |

The gifted performer, who recently stepped into the role of Nick Bottom in 'Something Rotten!,' leads us through his full-throttle day

Rob McClure knows the exact moment when he first understood the transformative power of live theater. 

He was 15 and watching a community theater production of a show he didn’t know called Sweeney Todd put on by the Bergen County Players in Oradell, New Jersey.

The surprise ending did him in. “I remember being so floored. I thought, tomorrow there’s going to be another audience who doesn’t know that’s coming,” he recalls. “I have to be there when they find out.” So every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three months he saw every performance. “They got me a cast jacket for a show I wasn’t in,” says McClure. “That was it. I didn’t care in what capacity. I just knew I wanted to be around where there were people and an audience together in the same room telling great stories.”

Rob McClure in ‘Something Rotten!’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Rob McClure in ‘Something Rotten!’ (Photo: Joan Marcus)

From there, he started doing plays anywhere they would have him in any capacity: at school, church basements, community theaters, in college. “If they needed someone to run lights or sound, move props or design makeup, I didn’t care what it was. I just wanted to be around where that was happening,” he shares.

After graduating from New Milford High School, he landed his first professional gig in Carouselat the Paper Mill Playhouse. A year later, he did I’m Not Rappaport there. When the show moved to Broadway, McClure made his Broadway debut opposite Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen.

His first starring role on Broadway was playing Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin: The Musical. McClure was nominated for a Tony. That iconic role made an indelible mark. “I see him in any comedy I encounter. He shaped plot-based comedy which didn’t come from shtick, but came from story, empathy, your tragic everyman character longing for a better life,” says McClure. “He’s changed the way I approach comedy which is not starting with the joke, but the man behind the joke.”

This month, McClure, who recently ended a smash run of Noises Off at the Roundabout Theatre Company took over the role of Nick Bottom in Something Rotten!, previously played by Brian d’Arcy James. “The whole world, including me, loves him so it was terrifying,” reveals McClure who is also doing a what-got-him-into-Broadway concert of his musical influences at Feinstein’s 54 Below on July 1 and 2, 2016. “But luckily, the cast, crew and audience have opened their arms to me and allowed it to be a seamless transition.”

Another great source of joy is his wife and fellow performer Maggie Lakis. The couple met in a 2005 New Jersey production of Grease where he was Doody and Lakis played Frenchy. “I take issue with that whole “don’t date actors” edict. There are lunatics and narcissists in any field,” says McClure, who did the national tour of Avenue Q with Lakis. “It helps to have someone who gets when I’m sitting at the coffee table trying to get off book memorizing lines, making weird faces and asking her to run lines with me.” The couple resides in Philadelphia, a simple commute via Amtrak, yet lovingly worlds away. “You get a lot more for your money, it’s a great arts town and the Philadelphia theater community has exploded in the last 10 years. My wife and I love working there wherever we can,” he says.

McClure shared a day in his multi-state life filled with doughnuts, kitty cats and some Rocky-style running.

I woke up in South Philadelphia. A lot of people don’t know my home is there. I love it and it’s only an hour and twenty minutes to New York City on Amtrak.

In bed, my wife lays beside me. The first thing she hears from me are little sighs which test whether or not my voice is there. “Burrr, muah, muah.” I always do a vocal test to make sure everything’s in good shape.

I take a shower, go downstairs and feed my kitty cats, Nico and Pip.

My wife and I always find an excuse to take a long walk through old city Philadelphia, like we need to deposit a check at the bank. As usual we end up at Federal Donuts for brunch. It’s the best place you can imagine for donuts and fried chicken. They fry donuts to order so they’re hot and have all these amazing flavors: lemon meringue, butter pecan, chocolate éclair, apollonia spice. I believe the entire Something Rotten! cast is going to gain weight from the amount of donuts I’m bringing them.

I got home and it’s business time. I respond to emails, take care of press, organize my schedule. July 1st and 2nd, I’m doing a concert called Smile at Feinstein’s 54 Below. I emailed my musical director James Sampliner to finalize my song set. The show is a loving tribute to Charlie Chaplin who wrote that famous song. James leads a six-piece brass band. We’re celebrating my favorite influences from people like Mister Rogers, Sesame Street, Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown.  It’s an eclectic bunch of music through James’ brilliant arrangements.  Original Avenue Q cast members, Rick Lyon and Jennifer Barnhart, are bringing along puppets.

I listen to my wife practice different instruments like the autoharp or banjo. Most days she says “Can you listen to this real quick?” and will do a miniature concert to get used to playing in front of people. She creates fun folky arrangements with pop songs she loves and works to keep expanding her musical horizons.

I get on our Vespa, ride to the 30th Street Station and lock it to the bike rack because it’s free to park.

I get on the Amtrak train going to New York.

My time on the train is my sacred “me” time. I love that I have an hour and 20 minutes to do anything which could be reading, sleeping, watching Game of Thrones. I read the latest issue of The Walking Dead graphic novel. It’s really smart how Robert Kirkman turned the zombie genre on its ear. I like the idea that the zombies are manageable but the people become scary in the apocalypse. It’s an interesting take on the apocalyptic genre.

I’m answering questions about The Walking Dead to people next to me on the train who see a 34-year-old reading a comic book. Sometimes people ask why I’m looking at sheet music. “Are you a singer?” they ask. I inevitably have conversations and find people to be sweet and curious.

From Penn Station, I walk 11 blocks to the St. James Theatre on 44th street. I drop off my stuff at my dressing room.

I need fuel, but have to be at least a little digested when the show starts so I grab a bite to eat.  I know this sounds terrible. but I go to Five Guys and have my go-to cheeseburger with mayo, ketchup, American cheese and pickles. It’s a real burger. There’s nothing fast foody about it. Many old theaters don’t get good cell phone reception. To stay in touch with my wife or do anything I’ll stay out until I have to head into the theater. I actually love that they don’t have good reception because it’s a last line of defense against people using their phones during the show.

I head back to the theater. I have a daily tradition where I run past all the theater seats. I start by the stage and run horizontally through every row touching every seat all the way up to the top. More than anything, it’s a vocal warm-up to get my body going so that my voice wakes up in time to sing. The St. James has the sweetest house staff in the world. I’ll check in with all the ushers and say “hello.” Many of them sing the Rocky theme as I start running. When I get to the top, I do a little vocal warm-up and then come back down. I fully admit it’s also become superstitious. For the last seven years I’ve done this at every show I’ve done, including the 11,000-seat Muny in St. Louis, which took an hour and ten minutes to run.

Our half hour call doesn’t take me anywhere near a half an hour to get ready. I make quick rounds throughout the building and have at least a small conversation with every person. When you do a show that is spread out in a large building you can find that you walk out on stage, and the first words you’re saying to good friends are make believe which I don’t like. I like having a connection with people who I am working with who I adore. For example, before I play her pretend husband, I visit Heidi Blickenstaff and say, “How is your day? How’s your husband?”

I feed the cable of my microphone up through my hair and clip it on to my forehead. Then my sweet dresser Jack Scott helps me get into my beautiful Gregg Barnes leather doublets which are just amazing. I put it on, look in the mirror, and say, there he is. There’s the guy.

The show begins and is absolutely thrilling and one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. The crowds have been phenomenal. It’s a blast. Christian Borle always keeps me on my toes. Even though he’s the most consistent person when it comes to landing dramatic beats, how he gets there is spontaneous. If you hire Christian Borle, you’re kind of asking for a different performance every night. I love that. Our tap battle is particularly fun.

Most of my intermission is spent drying off.  The second I get off stage Jack, my dresser, takes my shirt, vest and pants and makes a mad dash downstairs to throw my soaking wet clothes in the dryer. For 10 minutes he cranks it on high just to get them as dry as he can.

The show ends. Tony Braithwaite, a friend of mine from Philadelphia, brings some of his theater students from the St. Joe’s prep school. I give them a little backstage tour which was great.

We’re very lucky at Something Rotten! in that we have a very enthusiastic fan base. I spend time at the stage door with sweet people asking for autographs and taking pictures. Every night there’s at least 100 folks, if not more, out there. Then I get a little antsy about catching my train and run down 8th Avenue to Penn Station.

I got to Penn Station with just enough time to very embarrassingly get the Crunchwrap Box from Taco Bell.

What’s lovely about the train ride home is that my wife is currently doing Avenue Q at New World Stages. She plays the second hander track which includes the Bad Idea Bears, Mrs. T and the second hand for all the characters who require two puppeteers. We take the train home together and sleep on each other’s shoulder.

When we get to Philadelphia we jump on the Vespa. Sometimes my wife wants to drive. When we get home, we feed and cuddle our little kitty cats and watch something on the DVR like ChoppedGame of Thrones or Lost reruns because we were both obsessed when the show was a big hit. We pick Food Network Star.

Bedtime. When I’m going to bed and waking up the next morning, vocal neuroses and all, I realize how lucky I am. It is a joy to make thousands of people smile and laugh every day

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