Rob McClure is living every aspiring actor’s dream. Starring as Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood’s imortal little tramp, in the new Broadway musical Chaplin at the Ethel Barrymore Theater has earned McClure the sort of star-is-born notices that launch careers into the stratosphere. But the previously unknown actor, 30, didn’t come out of nowhere—he honed his craft on stages throughout North Jersey.
The seeds of McClure’s success were sown in his sophomore year at New Milford High School, where his first stage foray earned him a best-supporting-actor-nomination at Paper Mill Playhouse’s annual Rising Star Awards. “It was the first real theater I had ever been in,” he says. “I thought, people do this for a job? Until then I didn’t know it was a career option. So, I started to take it a little more seriously.”
Two years later, McClure won the Rising Star honor—for best actor. He then began his formal training in Paper Mill’s summer conservatory program, after which he started to land paid gigs with the renowned Millburn theater. One of those shows, I’m Not Rappaport, moved to Broadway, and McClure, then in his sophomore year at Montclair State University, was suddenly a professional actor. “I definitely owe Paper Mill my start,” he says. But he cites other Jersey institutions as well, including the Bergen County Players, now in its 80th year. “It’s a magical little place and a great breeding ground for talent.”
At Montclair State, he double majored in theater and English education. He returned to New Milford High School for a four-year stint directing its annual musical, an experience he describes as “hugely educational.” He later took over a lead role late in the Broadway run of the musical Avenue Q. With top-tier experience under his belt, he continued to land roles, and in 2010, won the demanding lead in a musical about Chaplin, originally called Limelight.
Renamed Chaplin, the show opened on Broadway in September. “The response has been profoundly moving,” says McClure, who never tires of greeting fans after the show. “If I see a show and like a performer, I wait at the stage door too. I’m just as big a fan as they are.”