Watching Rob McClure darting around New Milford High School's Jim Africano auditorium assisting with this year's production of , you would little suspect that he was gearing up for the role of a lifetime as Charlie Chaplin on Broadway.
"My career began right here on the stage of ," McClure said at the time with a great deal of pride.
Chaplin, The Musical, currently in previews at the Barrymore Theater, is based on the life of Charlie Chaplin and reveals the story of the man behind the camera. McClure created the role of Chaplin at the La Jolla Playhouse in California where he received the Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical.
In a recent interview with the New York Times, choreographer and director of Chaplin, The Musical, Warren Carlyle, said of choosing McClure to play Chaplin, "This scruffy little guy from New Jersey was the one.”
When we first spoke to McClure about his role as Chaplin, he told Patch that he put a great deal of time into studying the actor, examining every twitch and turn Chaplin incorporated into his stories to convey the feeling of the moment.
He explained that although Chaplin spoke not one word in his most memorable films, there was nothing silent about his performance.
From River Road to Broadway
McClure's theater career began when he was in the eighth grade and auditioned for New Milford High School's production of Bye Bye Birdie.
"I got the part, but turned it down," McClure said.
"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," he said.
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 and although he didn't get the role, 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.
Even when he got his actor's equity card, McClure returned home to New Milford High School where he directed the musicals from 2003 to 2006 while he 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."
After leaving NMHS McClure accepted a series of roles on the road ultimately landing 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 said.
McClure credits New Milford High School and its strong commitment to the arts for leading him where he is today.
The Barrymore Theatre is located at 243 West 47th Street. Tickets, which range in price from $66.50 to $135.50, can be purchased through Telecharge or by calling (212) 239-6200.
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