THE LEADING MEN: Rob McClure, the Little Tramp of Broadway's Chaplin

By Michael Gioia
31 Jul 2012

McClure as Chaplin
Photo by Joan Marcus

On your Twitter account profile, it says that you — much like Chaplin — also write, direct and compose.
RM: It's something that I've played around with in the past. [Laughs.]… Growing up, I baked bagels. That was my job before going to high school every day. I loved doing theatre at night, so when it came time that I wanted to get a job, the only time that worked without having to stop doing theatre was before school. Being there alone until the first [customer] came, I would bake bagels and write stupid songs about a customer who annoyed me. [Laughs.]… Cut to six years later — I had just gotten out of college, and I went back to my old high school in New Milford, NJ, and I directed the musical there for a couple of years. And, my old high school woodshop teacher said, "You should do The Bagel Factory, The Musical." So we wrote The Bagel Factory, The Musical, and did this whole $33,000 world premiere. [Laughs.] It was thrilling! Any opportunity I get to flex those muscles again… If there's a little lull, I write when I can. I find that the more aspects of this craft I play with, the more I can appreciate. Believe it or not, directing at my old high school, I learned more about the spirit of collaboration there than I did anywhere else. When you have to make it happen at a high school, you're the director, choreographer, lighting designer, set designer, costumes… No one's paying you, but you have to make it work, so you do it. I've taken that with me into this realm.

What was your first brush with theatre? You grew up in New Jersey?
RM: Yeah, I grew up in northern New Jersey in a little town called New Milford. My first brush with theatre was when I auditioned for Bye Bye Birdie at my high school in eighth grade. I got in, but I turned it down because I was doing a statewide golf tournament and thought I was going to be a professional golfer — I had that wrong! [Laughs.] Before the following year's musical, someone said to me, "There's a little theatre called the Bergen County Players in Oradell, NJ, and they're doing this musical about a guy who kills people and puts them in meat pies." I was like 14 and thought, "That sounds like the coolest friggin' thing I've ever [heard of] in my life." So I went and I auditioned for Toby [in Sweeney Todd]. I said, "Hi, I'm auditioning for Toby" and proceeded to sing "Stars" from Les Miz. [Laughs.] If that's not a good gauge of where my theatrical sense was at that moment…! I had no idea what I was doing! So, obviously, I didn't get it, but I wanted to see this show, so I went back and I saw it. The moment that I found out it was [Sweeney's] wife at the end, I remember feeling so manipulated. I could not believe that I had fallen so hard for a story that was being told to me live. I was so invested in this story, [and] I remember thinking, "Tomorrow, there's going to be another hundred people here who don't know that's coming. I have to be here when they find out!" Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for [the show's run], I rode my bike and spent $12 [to see] every performance of Sweeney Todd at the Bergen County Players. By the end, I wasn't watching the show anymore. I was watching the audience watch the show because that was what was fascinating to me… That became why I went every night — to watch people watch the show. I think that, specifically, is what "got me" about theatre. I can't do that when I'm watching a television show or when I'm at a movie theatre, [and] I don't get the same sort of journey. There was something about what was going on in that room. That was it. I was done.

How are you feeling at this point in rehearsals for Chaplin? Are you ready for Broadway?
RM: Rehearsals are going great. We're just chugging away. I take all of these crazy lessons. Every time there is a teeny-tiny rewrite, I'm taking a new lesson — like, "Hey, there's a new page, and you're taking violin lessons." [Laughs.] I'm now taking roller-skating lessons, violin lessons, tightrope-walking lessons and voice lessons in addition to the rehearsal time. That was "Chaplin Boot Camp." As I'm learning these things, I'm like, "God, this is a lot." Then I watch any of the hundreds of Chaplin films and think, "He did it. He did all of this stuff."

(Playbill staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Write to him at