Rob McClure is a performer who can do it all. He’s a puppeteer – spending many years pulling the strings in Avenue Q. He’s a hysterical physical comedian, leaping around while playing the flaming Carmen Ghia in The Producers and Charlie Chaplin in a new musical. Through March 6th, Rob is playing the manic genius – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre. It’s not surprising to me that critics are raving about his performance as the child-like and annoying Mozart.
Joel: What is Amadeus about?
Rob: Amadeus is about the tortured struggle to resign to mediocrity. The story is told by an ailing and elderly Antonio Salieri. He was the most celebrated composer of his time, until a young prodigy by the name of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart showed up and changed music forever. He infuriated Salieri – not only because Mozart was a superior composer, but because he was a vulgar, conceited, manchild. Why would God choose THIS MAN for his conduit and not the far more virtuous Salieri. The story, while littered with historical facts, is fiction.
Why did you want to play the role of Mozart? Have you played the role before?
I was immediately drawn in by the play. I couldn’t believe how Peter Schaffer wove the story and the music together into a riveting evening at the theater. Mozart’s music moves me to no end. I was thrilled at the chance to explore his mind. I have not played the part before.
How do you relate to Mozart and how much of Rob McClure is in the way you play the role?
I try to bring a lot of myself to any role that I play. I start by simply putting myself into that time, place, and position. How would I respond? Mozart and I are similar in that we both never grew up fully. He has trouble conforming to the stuffy atmosphere of the court and exhibits a relentless child like sense of humor. Luckily, I like fart jokes as much as he did.
What has been the biggest challenge and the most fun about playing Mozart?
The biggest challenge AND the most fun was learning to conduct several pieces of his music. I am a big fan of conducting as an art form, and getting my hands on those scores was absolutely thrilling. There is nothing more visceral than conducting an epic piece of music.
How did you prepare for this role?
I listened to hours of his music, read two different biographies, buried myself in the script, learned two sections of his music on piano, and read “music theory for dummies”.
How different is the play from the film that won eight Academy Awards in 1985, including Best Picture?
There are a TON of differences between the movie and the play. The story is pretty similar, but the largest difference is the story telling convention. In the film, Salieri is confessing the tale to a priest. In the play, Salieri invokes the audience themselves to be his confessors – an immediately more engaging device.
What is your favorite Mozart composition in the show? Can you play piano and harpsichord in real life?
The ‘Requiem’ is by far my favorite piece used in the show. I was lucky enough to see it performed live at the Kimmel Center during rehearsals. I have NEVER felt more inside that man’s head. I forgot what a violent piece of music it is. It’s terrifying. Tying the music to what was happening to Mozart while he was writing it is a horrifying revelation. You hear, in the music, a man who is scared to die. A man horrified by judgement…… And yes, I do play the piano in real life.
Playing this role, did you gain more or less respect for the man?
I have gained endless amounts of respect for both the man and the music. I am in awe of him.
Costume Designer Colleen Grady has designed some gorgeous costumes. How warm are your costumes and your wig (s)?
The costumes are stunning. Wearing wigs and heavy costumes just comes with the territory. There is no reason to ever complain. It’s a small price to pay when playing make believe for a living. It takes me about 10 minutes to get ready. I wear very little make-up, although, I do cover one hand in “ink”. I figured a man who wrote as much as he did with Quill and Ink would have a permanent stain on his writing hand.
Which scene is the hardest to play?
The hardest scene is when Mozart’s father dies. It’s the moment where the show changes gears for Mozart.
When you first began rehearsals, what advice or suggestions did Director Malcolm Black give you?
Malcolm Black is a great director. He quickly encouraged me to erase any memories of Tom Hulce and his legendary “laugh”, and create the role from the ground up. I appreciated that permission more than he knew.
Talk about Dan Olmstead’s performance as Salieri.
I am honored to work with this stellar cast. Dan is brilliant. It’s very easy to share the stage with him every night. The show is his. I know that. We are all pawns in his memories. It’s a pleasure to serve his story.
Do you think Salieri and Mozart gain respect for one another as the play progresses?
Mozart does gain respect for Salieri over the evening, and in fact, he sees him as his only friend and protector. While Salieri’s view of Mozart is quite different. He can not deny the genius behind the music, but he does not appreciate the “creature” behind it.
I could not stop laughing when Ellie Mooney performed in Forbidden Broadway’s Greatest Hits at Walnut Street. Tell us about her performance as Constanze, Mozart’s wife.
Ellie is a dream to work with. She makes bold choices in the rehearsal room and gives 110% all the time. Her performance is lovely and heart-breaking.
You appeared at La Jolla Playhouse in the Fall of 2010 playing Charlie Chaplin in the world-premiere musical Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin and you received rave reviews. Talk about playing that role. Did you take any of that experience playing Chaplin with you when you were preparing to play Mozart? Any similarities in their lives and in their ‘careers’?
I am completely in love with Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin fascinates me and it’s a privilege to attempt to fill his ENORMOUS shoes.
What’s happening with Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin? Any chance of seeing it on the east coast soon?
The show is planning a Broadway arrival sometime in the coming year, if all goes as planned. Fingers crossed. Mozart and Chaplin are both tortured geniuses but that’s where the similarities end.
You have appeared at Walnut Street Theatre in other productions. Why do you enjoy working at The Walnut?
The Walnut is a great gig! It’s got the largest subscription base IN THE WORLD. 55,000! They have an enormous fan base who come out in full support for every production. It’s an honor and a pleasure to work there whenever they’ll have me.
You played Princeton in Avenue Q on Broadway and on the road. We got to see you in DC at National Theatre, where you played opposite your wife-to-be Maggie Lakis. Where did you both meet?
We met doing a production of Grease! at the Lenape Regional Performing Arts Center. I was Doody and she was Frenchy. Cheesy, Huh? But true! We were then lucky enough to do the Avenue Q tour together for 2 years. We saw the country, came back to Philly, and got married. She’s the best woman I have ever known. I’m a lucky, lucky man.
Any plans on ‘pulling the strings’ again in Avenue Q or in another show that utilizes puppets? What do you enjoy more – working with puppets or humans?
There are no plans to return to Avenue Q at the moment, but I am truly blessed to be a part of the Avenue Q family. I have been fully bitten by the puppetry bug, and would jump at the chance to utilize those skills again. I am fascinated by puppets. The ability to animate the inanimate. Puppets or humans??? I hate to ruin the illusion, but behind every puppet, is a very skilled, highly trained professional human. 🙂
You and Maggie reside in Philadelphia. Why did you choose Philly over NYC?
Maggie introduced me to the Philadelphia theater scene and it has become my home. There are literally dozens of great companies to work for, and the cost of living is VASTLY cheaper. When I work on Broadway, I ride the Amtrak daily, back and forth to New York . The monthly AMTRAK bill, plus our mortgage, does not equal the rent for a one bedroom within 50 miles of Manhattan. But more importantly, I just love the city. It manages to feel like a city and a neighborhood at the same time. It’s a city steeped in tradition, history and the Arts. All of which I adore. I’m honored to be based here.
What‘s next for you?
I’m doing the world premier of The Flea and the Professor at the Arden Theater, and then hopefully Limelight. There are several other possibilities in the works for the coming year. I’ll keep you posted.
Why should theatergoers from DC, Philly and NYC make the trip to see Amadeus at Walnut Street Theatre?
If there is one thing I’ve learned from being on tour, it’s that the country is NOT THAT BIG. And the east coast is EVEN SMALLER. If you are curious about a show, hop on the AMTRAK and make it happen! I’ve had several life changing experiences in the theater. Hopefully, this production will provide someone else with such a moment.
Amadeus plays through March 6th at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, in Philadelphia, PA.
Rob McClure in Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin, at its world premiere musical at La Jolla Playhouse September 7 – October 17, 2010. Music and Lyrics by Christopher Curtis, Book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan, Directed by Warren Carlyle and Michael Unger.
Here are two more videos that really capture the funny and very silly Rob McClure who I adore:
Rob appears as all the puppets in this commercial made for 11th Hour Theatre Company & Theatre Horizon ‘s co-production of Little Shop Of Horrors. Watch it here.
Watch Mark Ziegler, Maggie Lakis (Rob’s wife) Benjamin Schrader, Anika Larsen, Zonya Love, and Robert McClure celebrate Christmas on their new Avenue Q water bottles here.