Me: One thing that’s interesting with this show, compared to the average book musical is how you, in a way, are the only consistently present character. In fact, I’ve been bringing a lot of different people to the show, and many of their responses are about how much they loved certain characters, such as Hedda, Oona, or Alf, but they wished that they got more time with them. I realize it comes with the territory of presenting the entire life of this legend on stage, and I feel that this challenge is met quite well. But for you, as an actor, what is it like to go through this journey really at lightning speed, with different characters all the time, and while Charlie himself perhaps had ten years of emotion to lead up to a decision, you may have five minutes.
Rob: You know, at the end of the show, Charlie says that like a movie, life has a beginning, middle, and an end. And I feel like our show very much has those moments of his life. While it is condensed, it also makes for a great story which feels complete in its beginning, middle and end. So yes, Jenn Colella (Hedda) comes in fairly late in the game, but where I am in the terms of my evening, I do feel the rise to success, the celebration, the bit of an ego taking over, and just when that happens here is this woman to give me a reality check. Whether that comes an hour into my journey on Broadway or fifty years into his life, the arrival feels the same. The threat feels imminent. The same is true for Oona. I feel the arrival of Erin Mackey is exactly what Charlie needed in that moment- and it’s exactly what our show needs in the moment. Charlie is in a downward spiral, and out of nowhere, this beautiful ray of sunshine shows up.
Me: A breath of fresh air.
Rob: Yes, and that was big for Warren in terms of casting Oona. It needed to be someone who we have not seen yet. Charlie has had several wives, and they’ve all been unique and different and special. But, there had to be a game changer. And Erin Mackey has a playfulness and a lightness of her spirit that when she shows up, even though there is twenty minutes left, the whole audience is going “who is that?” and I think that’s what Charlie is doing. “Who is that?” That’s something we have not seen yet, and I believe the audience instantly knows that they have clicked in a way that he hasn’t experienced with someone else before. Even the way the conversation bounces is new. So, it provides- she provides- the ultimate happy ending for him. Both in our show, and in life. It’s funny. In his autobiography, Charlie writes hundreds of pages on other people in his life, and he gets to Oona. The chapter on Oona says basically, I’m paraphrasing, “I’ve struggled about what I’m going to write about Oona in this, but all I’m going to say is that essentially every time I try to think of words good enough to describe this woman, I get a lump in my throat. So, I’m going to leave it at that.”
Rob: For Charlie, he had never experienced a love like that. It was so interesting, because he was 54 and she was 18 when she got married. Judge all you want, but they stayed together for thirty-some-odd years and had eight children, so something worked! But it’s so interesting. It’s also interesting to see how the things that Hedda Hopper succeeded in slandering Charlie with still are believed today. There are people who come up to me at the stage door and say things such as, “So, do you think in The Great Dictator he was specifically appealing to anti-Hitler sentiment because he was Jewish?”. The first thing I say is, “he wasn’t Jewish.” He wasn’t, he was raised Presbyterian, and Hedda Hopper was appealing to anti-Semitic fans at the time. She was trying to get anyone she could rallied against this guy. She started throwing around what faith is he? Is he Jewish? Is he a communist? He wasn’t, he was a humanist. But there are people who come to the stage door and say, “If he just wasn’t a communist I believe things would have gone better for him.”
Rob: He wasn’t a communist! It’s amazing that, and especially the Wednesday matinee crowd, it’s amazing to see how much Hedda Hopper really succeeded. And what’s great is that our show gets to clear it up a bit, and that’s nice. I mean, a lot of times, I see those people on the street before hand and we chat. And then after the show, it’s so wonderful that years later he (Charlie) gets a chance, through us, to clear things up for people. But’s it’s amazing how relevant Hedda’s slander still is.
Me: In that regard, I believe that you and the show do a really nice job of being very respectful and honoring to this legend, but he obviously had his own shortcomings.
Rob: He sure did.
Me: And the show doesn’t deny that.
Rob: He was a complicated dude.
Rob: Yah, we touch on the age and the frequency of his girlfriends. Once he found his political voice with The Great Dictator, some might argue that he found too much to say- that he got a bit to big for his britches. And we go ahead and explore it. And he was a tyrant in terms of directing. He was brutal to work in.
Me: The legends often are...
Rob: His directing style was usually, “do it like this”, and then he would full out committed perform it and expect you to do it exactly as he just did. There was no interpretation- nothing. He just showed you how to do it. The scene at the end of City Lights with the blind flower girl where he takes the rose from her- one of the most beautiful romantic film scenes of all times- he did over 800 takes of that with two different actresses. The most for any of his films.
Rob: He had the first actress, who he did over 500 takes of. He fired her, brought in a different actress. Filmed 200 takes, and realized that it was a mistake. Fired her, and brought the original girl back and then shot another 100 takes before he got the one that’s in the movie. He was..
Me: A perfectionist.
Rob: Truly a perfectionist.
Me: But look at what he accomplished.
Stay tuned for Part Four!