Most theater performers don’t get to spend Valentine’s Day with their significant other, but that’s not the case for Rob McClure and Maggie Lakis, who spent the night kissing, embracing and singing together—in-character as Nick and Bea Bottom in Something Rotten!, playing at the National Theatre through Feb. 18.
The real-life married couple met during a production of Grease at the Lenape Performing Arts Center in Marlton, N.J. in 2005. She was Frenchy, he was Doody, and the pair hit it off right away.
“We started as friends and got along so well that we started dated,” Lakis says. “He had worked on Broadway before and as a young performer, it was harder to continue to work in the union because those younger roles often go to non-union people, so I suggested he try Philadelphia so he moved down there with me shortly thereafter and we worked some in Philly.”
They’ve worked together five times since then, including a popular tour of Avenue Q, which played D.C. about ten years ago.
“He went into an open call and got the job from that, and I had some puppetry experience so I was able to get an audition when I learned he was going out on tour, and we booked the tour together,” she says. “That has the same producer as Something Rotten!—Kevin McCollum, so he knew we could travel together and be in that close environment together.”
McClure is best known for his Tony-nominated turn as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin, and also is a favorite of those following the Philadelphia theater scene and patrons of the Muny in St. Louis, where he has played leading roles in Shrek, The Addams Family and Mary Poppins.
It was seeing a production of Sweeney Todd by the Bergen County Players at the age of 15 that made McClure want to pursue a life in theater.
“It had this surprise ending, which shocked me, and I remember thinking, ‘tomorrow, there will be another audience here who doesn’t know that’s coming and I have to be there when they find out,’” he says. “I ended up seeing every performance—Friday, Saturday and Sunday for two months. I even got a cast jacket for this show I wasn’t in.”
McClure was honored by the Paper Mill Playhouse with its Rising Star Award while in high school and that gave him a nudge to pursue a career a little stronger. With the award came a scholarship to their summer conservatory program and that started his professional training.
Performing in Something Rotten! has been a blast for McClure and he credits the brilliant music of brothers Karey and Wayne Kirkpatrick, book by John O’Farrell and Karey and directing by Casey Nicholaw for creating such a hilarious group of characters.
“We’re dealing with Shakespeare and musical theater, and for anyone not into either, Nick is their way in. He’s the everyman who doesn’t represent the savvy theatergoer. In this crazy, zany show, the audience sees the world through his eyes.”
Lakis loves how funny the musical is and feels everyone will appreciate its cleverness and humor.
“The news today is so dire, and this is a chance for people to turn off their phones and social media and sit back and just laugh and have that experience with a large group of people,” she says. “I also enjoy that it’s a new show. It’s not a revival or an adaptation of a book or movie, and when we’re behind the curtain before it starts every night, we know the audience has no idea what’s coming and the surprises we have waiting for them.”
McClure enjoys working with his wife and notes it’s a “cool way to get reminded nightly how awesome your spouse is.”
“She has a great song in her first scene called ‘Right-Hand Man’ and just to be able to hear her sing the hell out of that every night, I have the best seat in the house eight times a week,” he says. “It’s been so much fun.”
closes February 18, 2018
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The show, McClure says, becomes a bit of an escape for the couple and they don’t let what’s happening in their real lives carry over to the stage. For example, if they have a disagreement over something that day, no one in the audience would ever notice.
“We’re both pros who have been doing this for twenty years, so the idea of letting anything seep in there is not within us,” he says. “I’ve seen people who have let that bleed in, but we take the job seriously and can put things on the shelf and just play the scene because the audience deserves it.”
On stage, Lakis says it’s not hard to separate the characters from their real life, seeing as they are wearing ridiculous costumes in front of an audience of people, but feels the fact that they know each other better than anyone else helps make the stage relationship stronger.
“Plus, we have the best seat in the house to watch your partner work, which is always really fun,” she says. “When we start to work on a project together and we have to have a history or kiss, there’s really no problem for us or awkwardness the first time that might come from others.”
The one exception to that occurred early in the dress rehearsal when McClure sort of pulled away from his wife after a kiss. “I was in costume and I felt like he wasn’t into the kiss so I asked him if there was something wrong, and he said, ‘well, you’re wearing a beard!’ so it wasn’t as fun for him,” she laughs.
Both McClure and Lakis have been touring with Something Rotten! for a little more than a year and the fact that they get to be together every night is a gift from the theater gods.
“Normally, this work takes you away from your partner so this has been an amazing opportunity and we get to see the country together,” Lakis says. “It takes away most of the homesickness when you travel with your family unit. We even have our cat with us.”
On the tour, the couple is driving together, stopping at National Parks and enjoying the special things of each city. They’ll continue with the tour together until May.
Once it ends, McClure will return to The Muny to help them celebrate its 100th season, playing the narrator in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, the role Jason Alexander won a Tony for in 1989. Lakis isn’t sure what’s next for her, but both of them are just looking forward to the next few months on the road together in Something Rotten!.