By Maddie Orton
Tony nominee Rob McClure took over the lead role of Nick Bottom in Broadway’s “Something Rotten!” earlier this summer. It’s his sixth Broadway show, but he still feels the same nervous energy he did back in high school.
“The same butterflies I got backstage at New Milford High School are the same butterflies I still get in ‘Something Rotten!'” he said. “Because you care, you want it to be good, you want people to laugh.”
McClure was raised in New Milford and attended Montclair State University until Broadway came knocking. We caught up with him at Sardi’s — the legendary restaurant frequented by audiences and artists alike — between performances.
McClure is down to earth, friendly and thankful. He attributes much of his success to arts education.
“I think people are starting to realize that it’s not just extracurricular. It’s not a hobby. I support myself, and one day a family, playing make believe for a living. It’s another legitimate career option,” he said. “Is it a long-shot? Sure. But for my friends who play drums in a Broadway pit and feeds their family of five doing so, band in high school isn’t a hobby. It was the rest of their lives.”
McClure learned early, though, that a career as an artist can mean getting creative to make ends meet.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to get a job, but I also wanted to do plays. Plays don’t pay when you’re doing them in high school, or community theater or in the basement of a church. So I got a job baking bagels at 3:30 in the morning,” McClure recounted. “And I would work 3:30 to 7:30 every day, and then go to school, and then I would do my homework really quickly after school, and then I would have play rehearsal or the show, and then I would get home at 11 and start all over. I learned then that sometimes acting’s going to pay your bills and sometimes you’ve got to figure it out.”
It was through Paper Mill Playhouse‘s Rising Star Awards for excellence in high school musical theater that McClure got that nudge toward the art form as a profession. His senior year, he tied for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role.
Flash forward 16 years and McClure has originated roles in Broadway’s “Chaplin the Musical” and “Honeymoon in Vegas”.
Now he’s stepping into a role, which is a totally different experience.
“Yeah, totally different. Totally different,” confirmed McClure. “It’s thrilling. It’s a pressure cooker. You’ve got 11 days in a room with a dance captain learning the show by yourself with a dance captain playing everybody. And then you have a ‘put-in’ — you meet the person who’s going to play your wife, and you go, ‘Hi, I’m Rob,’ and you kiss 10 minutes later, and then you do a show on Broadway together that night! It’s insane.”
Amidst all the craziness, McClure found time to work with Fair Lawn High School — the first high school to perform “Chaplin the Musical” — this spring.
“I went to do a quick two-hour ‘I love the show and thanks for doing it!’ and I quickly realized how much these kids cared about it,” he said.
He worked with the talented young actor playing Charlie Chaplin, Trevor Braun. And to his excitement, Braun also went on to win the Rising Star Award for Leading Actor.
So how does it feel as somebody who was Trevor not that long ago, to hear that his voice is on the cast album that everybody’s listening to, that his picture is at Sardi’s?
“It’s crazy because I don’t feel any different,” McClure said. “I still feel like Trevor. I’m still chasing the dream. So the fact that I’ve been able to have some luck? I’m grateful. More than anything, I feel grateful.”
Rob McClure and the cast “Something Rotten!” perform eight shows a week at the St. James Theatre.