How do you get from the New Milford Village apartments to Broadway? Well, if you ask Rob McClure, class of 2000, he'll tell you it's by way of .
This coming spring McClure is bringing Chaplin to Broadway in a role he created at the La Jolla Playhouse in California. Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin is a musical based on the life of Charlie Chaplin and reveals the story of the man behind the camera.
And it all began on the stage at New Milford High School.
In the eighth grade McClure auditioned for the High School's production of Bye Bye Birdie, got the part, but turned it down. "I was playing in a state golf tournament and I chose to do that instead of the musical because I wanted to become a professional golfer," McClure said in a phone interview.
However, he did take a part in Anything Goes his freshman year.
It was also during his freshman year that McClure discovered the Bergen County Players. He auditioned for Sweeney Todd, didn't get the role, but he was so taken by the surprise ending that every weekend he rode his bike to the Little Firehouse Theater in Oradell and bought a $12 ticket to watch the audience watch the show.
"I already knew the ending, but I wanted to see the audience's reaction. I was amazed by how these performers could manipulate the audience with their acting."
Knowing that he wanted to pursue theater, and looking to make money in the meantime, McClure took a part-time job at "The Bagel Factory" from 4 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. so that he could go to theater auditions and rehearsals in the afternoons. It was from behind the counter in the early hours of the morning where he created songs about the customers and the goings-on at the bagel store, and shared them with his friends at school.
"I'd go to work, go to school, then go to an audition or play rehearsal."
In his sophomore year, the school's musical Hello Dolly, was entered into the Paper Mill Playhouse's Rising Star Awards, established to recognize "exceptional accomplishments" in high school musical theater, and McClure was nominated for best supporting actor for his role as Cornelius. He didn't win that year, but during his senior year he won the "Rising Star Scholarship" for his performance in Where's Charley? The scholarship allowed him to attend the Paper Mill Playhouse Summer Conservatory.
After that, McClure did the Paper Mill Playhouse's production of I'm Not Rappaport appearing alongside Judd Hirsch and Ben Vereen. When the show went to Broadway, he went with it and got his Actor's Equity card.
However, he found that once he got his equity card it was harder to find work because there's a lot of very talented 20 year olds who are much cheaper to hire than one with an equity card. "I had a Broadway credit, but I couldn't get an agent," he remarked.
So, McClure returned home to New Milford High School where he directed the musicals from 2003 to 2006 and attended Montclair State University.
"I learned more about the theater by directing at New Milford High School than anywhere else. You're not only director, you're set designer, choreographer, lighting designer, fund raiser...you name it. I especially learned about commaraderie. It's a real testament to the arts at New Milford High School."
Having to wear so many hats, McClure learned to appreciate the people behind the scenes who get things done so that the show can go on. "I make it a point to know the name of every stage hand," McClure said.
After being unable to get the rights to perform Beauty and the Beast (because NMHS is too close in proximity to the Broadway production) McClure's former high school wood shop teacher, who was also the producer of the musicals, asked him, "Why don't we do the bagel show you thought up in high school?"
"I never considered it more than a collection of songs, but he encouraged me to turn it into a show." And so the musical comedy The Bagel Factory was born.
After leaving NMHS McClure accepted a series of roles on the road where he met his wife, actress Maggie Lakis. Ultimately, he landed in Philadelphia where he discovered that there was a thriving theater community. "I no sooner moved to Philadelphia, lined up work, when I got a role in Avenue Q."
McClure decided to give the Phili-NY commute a try. "Not only did I not hate it, I loved it. And what’s amazing is that the monthly Amtrak pass, plus our mortgage on a four-bedroom house, is less than what my friends are paying in rent for a one-bedroom in New York."
Avenue Q was "life changing" for McClure. Not only was he in the Broadway production, but he was a part of the first national tour.
McClure credits New Milford High School and its strong commitment to the arts for leading him where he is today, which is why he feels passionately that the arts should not be cut from school programs.
"The arts are not a cutable extracurricular activity. It's a career path; a potential way for people to make a living and it must always be encouraged."