Me: Last time I was here you mentioned that, since La Jolla, 70% of the show has been changed. I know that Warren came in with a very unique vision, especially adding the black and white element. But, were these changes mostly staging, or was the book overhauled for Broadway as well?
Rob: It wasn’t completely redone. I feel like the heart and the key moments of the show are the same. But Warren was able to really shape his vision of this show for the Broadway audience. La Jolla was a great learning experience for all of us, but people were responding to the heart of the show then too. There were just as many people at the stage door in tears afterwords saying wonderful and kind things. But Warren was really able to specify his vision for it, and dream up the world that he wanted to tell the story in- including the black and white- and dream up a bunch of crazy things for me to do. There was no spinning table in La Jolla, there was no roller skating, there was no violin, there was no tight-rope walking... so Warren really was able to flex his creative muscles knowing he was bringing this to a Broadway house.
Me: How quickly did you have to learn to do all of that?
Rob: In about three and a half weeks before we started rehearsals.
Rob: Oh yah...
Me: What was the most difficult trick to learn?
Rob: Playing the violin, for sure. I still practice every day. It’s an ongoing struggle, because there is nowhere to hide on the violin. If you’re nervous on a piano and you hit the right key, it still makes the correct note. On a violin you’re dealing with horsehair!
Me: Lots of nuance.
Rob: You play that instrument with your entire body, and every little tick is heard by the audience. There is nowhere to hide. I actually apologized to the first few preview audiences for, you know, what they had to sit through. But, I’ve gotten a lot better, and it’s beautiful instrument. Actually, my warm up every night is that I play “Smile” on the violin.
Me: That’s perfect.
Rob: Yes that’s my warm-up. So tonight, at around 7:10, I’ll be in here playing “Smile”.
Me: With that in mind, and everything else you do in the show, is there anything your dread doing every night- purely because it’s difficult or for some other reason?
Rob: Well, usually right in the beginning of “Where Are All the People”- my huge ballad in Act Two, there is a moment of “deep breath, here we go.” For that moment to come so late in the evening, it takes everything I’ve got left to get it out. And it’s great, because that echoes the evening for Charlie to. So, when I’m exhausted and it’s all I’ve got left, I feel like it serves our story. It’s a beautiful moment, and I’m grateful for it. But it does come with a certain sense of oh boy, here we go again. And the first act. The first act is filled with moments of “Oh my god”, “Oh my god”, “Oh my god”, and it starts on the tight rope.
Me: The very first time you’re seen in the show.
Rob: Don’t fall off the tightrope, run downstairs and make a quick change, grab the violin, don’t screw up the violin, get on the spinning table, don’t fall off the spinning table, do a backward roll, don’t spill the water... it is a countdown of crazy. And then the tramp transformation.
Me: Which has a lot of potential to have things go awry.
Rob: Of course! You know, I have to step into another person’s shoes- literally. And a lot of people don’t even realize that for that to happen, they need to be huge shoes! And there’s no magic. I don’t step in and someone’s hit a remote control and they fit to my foot- they are huge shoes that don’t fit! So keeping them on my feet and not tripping over myself, that’s one. Then every time I do a little hat trick, they are little moments of Chaplin-y magic. So if I drop the hat- there goes that. The first thing that happens in the Tramp discovery is the lights change, my poster changes, the music hits a chord, and I’m the Tramp. The very first thing that happens is the hat shoots off of my head, down my arm and into my hand. And if I don’t catch it...
Me: That would be unfortunate.
Rob: It’s like Spider-Man realizing he’s Spider-Man and then falling. Imagine the audience watching and on the first swing he fell, it undercuts the moment. I always associate that moment with a superhero movie. That moment when a superhero realizes they have superpowers and they are thinking “Holy Cow”. It’s that’s for me, and I feel like it’s that for Charlie. It’s all of a sudden he is feeling that he had these “superpowers” that he didn’t know he had. So, going back to you original question, there is a sense of “Oh god! Catch it!”, Oh god! Catch it!”.
Me: Have you ever dropped the hat?
Rob: Uhh knock on wood... not yet. But also, one of the hardest ones is when Adam Rogers in our cast throws me the cane, which is the completing ingredient for the Little Tramp.
Me: I read an interview with Warren, and he mentioned that that is an especially difficult moment.
Rob: Well, it’s because to create the magic of that moment, it’s side lit. So I turn into the brightest side light in the history of humans and out of it, comes this cane. Yes, I mean it’s hard, but I never want to come off as if I’m complaining about the difficulty, because I’m playing a legend on Broadway. That should be hard. It should be hard. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be impressive. I think it’s the difficulty that makes it impressive- that makes it thrilling. So I’m delighted to embrace the difficulty in that the reward of what it is we are doing is worth it- it’s worth how hard it is.
Me: So it must be a relief when you get to the point in the show where you are basically sitting behind a desk for a lot of Act Two.
Rob: Yes! It’s usually at the end of Act One when I’m on the tightrope again, and I take off my hat, and I flip it and catch it on my foot. That is usually the end of the “crazy countdown”. If it lands on my foot, inside I have a huge “Huzzah!” moment. I mean, there’s a couple in Act Two, but Act One is where the bulk of the panic is. Act Two is really where the emotional journey really takes over.
Stay tuned for Part Three!