Last year Rob McClure gave a stellar performance as black-and-white silent film star Charlie Chaplin, but his personality and career are incredibly colorful and versatile. The Tony Award nominee just completed a critically acclaimed run in Honeymoon in Vegas at Paper Mill Playhouse after spending the summer at The Muny as Lord Farquaad in Shrek the Musical and Bert in Mary Poppins. As he awaits Honeymoon in Vegas' possible launch on Broadway in 2014, McClure is sharing his talent with Long Island, where he will be performing in John W. Engeman Theater at Northport's Broadway concert series on November 8. He spoke with TheaterMania about the concert, his own honeymoon, and what it's like to share a stage and home with Tony Danza.
How has life changed now that you are "Tony Award nominee Rob McClure"?
It's crazy. It's something that I unrealistically dreamed of. You think, "Oh wouldn't that be crazy if one day that happened?" And then all of a sudden you find yourself there. What it forced me to do was be very retrospective in terms of thinking about how I got there. I found myself getting very existential. Ultimately, I realized just how much of a miracle it was, and the number of miracles that needed to happen for me to be there at that time and place is really humbling.
You've been taking on a lot of roles that have been made famous by film: Bert, Lord Farquaad, Jack Singer. Are you drawn to shows that already have avid fans due to the film versions?
I'm not specifically drawn to that, but they have happened to be roles where I felt I could do something with them. It wasn't so much that they had had previous incarnations that have fan bases; it was whether or not I felt like I had something to contribute to it. With Lord Farquaad I thought there was an opportunity to be absolutely ridiculous, so that could be fun. When it came to Bert, I'm a huge Dick Van Dyke fan, and I'm that sort of throwback song-and-dance guy — not specifically to the Gene Kelly extreme, but to the character guys, the Ray Bolgers and the Dick Van Dykes. I was thrilled to be able to do that. And, to be able to stand on the Muny stage and watch Jenny Powers [who played Mary Poppins] fly over thirteen thousand people with the actual moon behind her was pretty magical. With Jack Singer [in Honeymoon in Vegas], I had a vague memory of that movie with the Flying Elvises, and I remember thinking it was funny, but once I got my hands on the new adaptation, I saw that it was out-of-control amazing. That's when I knew I couldn't pass this thing up.
How did Honeymoon in Vegas compare to your real honeymoon with your wife, Maggie?
First of all, Jack and Betsy go on a honeymoon as they're getting married. Maggie and I got married, and then had to wait three years before we got to take our honeymoon because we were both working! Right before Chaplin began we got to go to Hawaii. We're huge nerds, and sort of shaped our Hawaii honeymoon around Lost filming locations. It was awesome. Luckily we didn't see any polar bears.
What about Flying Elvises? Any of those on your honeymoon?
No, but we did take a helicopter tour over a volcano; that was pretty insane. I definitely would not have jumped out, though. The way they do the Flying Elvises sequence in the show is so smart and really fun for the audience. I have a distinct memory of people watching the show at Paper Mill, and going, "Yeah, I think I remember this movie." And then the Elvises show up, and I could see at least a third of every audience go, "Oh, right, this is the one with the Flying Elvises!"
If you could have chosen one of your own icons to be flying over your own honeymoon, who would it have been?
I would have liked a plane full of Tom Hankses! That would be great. I'd like to be in their company.
Tell us something that only you would know about costar Tony Danza from hoofing it with him onstage.
He is an avid rollerblader! Paper Mill put us up in the same house while we were doing the show, so I got to live with him. Let me tell you, I was fully living Who's the Boss? fantasies while I was there. There was a day when he came in and I was microwaving a Trader Joe's tamale. And he said, "What are you eating that garbage for?" And I said, "I've got five minutes till rehearsal. Don't bust my chops!" And the next day he had made a huge pot of homemade chicken soup, and froze it in individual Tupperware serving sizes and filled my freezer with them saying, "If you need to heat something up, heat that up — it's better for you. There's less preservatives." He was full-out taking care of me! He is one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met. What's amazing is that for as much TV and film that he has done, his heart is actually in musical theater. He's an amazing tap dancer, he's a great musician (he can even play the ukulele!), and he's a great singer. It's astounding the bag of tricks he has.
What can Long Island expect from your performance at John W. Engeman Theater?
I'm doing "If I Left London," from Chaplin. It's a sweet introduction into what I do. I'm also doing "Once in Love With Amy," from Where's Charley? I got to do it at Carnegie Hall last year, so [Broadway-concert-series producer] Stephen DeAngelis asked me if I would do it again. I'm doing a leading-ladies medley, which is something I put together a long time ago for [when I played] Rod in Avenue Q — sort of all the songs I wish I could sing, but they're women songs. It's silly-fun. And then, of course, "Smile."
Why is it important for people to experience Broadway away from Manhattan?
I live in Philadelphia, and my wife and I do a lot of theater out in the Philadelphia community. There's no reason to restrict the greatest theater in the world to New York, London, and Paris. It's silly to think that theatergoers in other cities want any less of a theatrical experience. The ability to be able to bring that type of performance to those people who so crave it — it's a thrill for me. I think theater communities in cities can form really strong foundations.
What are your plans before stepping back into Jack's shoes?
I'm going to be home in Philly for the holidays, which I'm so excited about. I'm doing the show The Story of My Life out of the Delaware Theatre Company. And then hopefully we'll start hearing more specifics on when Honeymoon will be on Broadway. The producers are being really smart in terms of being picky about when and how and what theater we go into, as they should be. They want to get it right. This show has had a long journey.
The New York theater community has come to know you as one of the nicest guys on Broadway. How do you feel about that statement?
My wife makes fun of me by calling me a grandpa because I have very little patience for inconsiderate children. So if we're walking in the mall, and some kid goes by really fast on a skateboard, I become the grumpiest eighty-five-year-old man in the world, and start screaming at them. So if you're between the ages of twelve and seventeen, don't be inconsiderate around me. I have a lot of patience for a lot of things, and a lot of people do say, "He's so nice, he's so nice…" until then! Those kids are my Achilles' heel!