Robert Creighton Gets Holiday Happy at Feinstein’s/54Below
By: Iris Wiener
No one embodies the New York vibe better than Robert Creighton. The multi-talented performer has leant his powerhouse vocals and stunningly quick dance steps to seven Broadway shows (Anything Goes, The Mystery of Edwin Drood), and is gearing up for his eighth, Disney’s behemoth Frozen. Fresh off a run in the West Coast premiere of Off-Broadway’s hit Cagney, a musical love letter to the groundbreaking vaudevillian song-and-dance man (Creighton earned Drama Desk and Fred Astaire awards for his performance, as well as a credit for co-writing the piece), he returns to Feinstein’s/54Below on December 14th at 7pm for his third solo show, Holiday Happy! Before debuting his festive set and stepping into the Duke of Weselton’s snow shoes in Arendelle, Creighton treated Theaterlife.com to a chat about his exciting year and what 2018 has in store for him.
Theaterlife: In a rare feat, Cagney took New York by storm and remained Off-Broadway for one year. How did West Coast audiences differ from those in New York?
Robert Creighton: It’s so interesting doing Cagney out there because that’s where the legend was born, and many people had connections to him. Hearing really unique stories about him was a lot of fun. New York audiences were great and everybody was so excited about the show. In L.A., I don’t think they were expecting the polish, the size and the experience that they received. Maybe their expectations were low and we exceeded them, so that created a new sort of excitement around it. The word of mouth just kept going until we were turning people away the last two weekends because we had sold out. People were pleasantly surprised about how we treated Cagney’s story, so their reactions were great.
TL: What did you learn about yourself through working on the show?
RC: Prior to working on Cagney at Westside Theatre, the longest I had ever performed as Cagney was a six-week stretch and it was really rough to get through. I was like, “How long can I sustain it?” But then I got stronger as I went, and I realized I could have done it for two years and kept going. It really surprised me.
TL: It’s a demanding role, but you’re raising two young kids- you can handle anything!
RC: Doing Cagney for fourteen months and being the “morning guy,” the parent who takes the kids to school because my wife is working full-time, just creates an added challenge. Surprisingly, I never felt more energized! I never really got tired. It was weird. One thing I’ve been blessed with in my life is energy. My dad had it too. He just retired after 58 years of being a family doctor in Canada. He’s 83 and retired in July!
TL: Tell me about the experience of debuting a hugely anticipated show, Frozen, in Denver earlier this year.
RC: It’s tangibly bigger than anything I’ve been a part of before. You feel the weight of the anticipation and the love of the story and the characters. There is such an electricity. We were sold out every night- that’s 2,700 seats! People came who love the movie and the characters, but I think they were truly blown away by the stage version. A lot of people said it was better than the movie. It’s a different thing. Right from the beginning, Michael Grandage, the director, was so clear that we’re not doing the movie; we’re creating a new piece of art. He really kept his focus on that. For such a massive thing, it was an incredibly happy, fun, and smooth process. It’s a great group of people in the cast. All of the people in our ensemble can carry a show on their own. It’s very fun to be a part of that body of talent.
TL: Will you be channeling Cagney’s infamous tap skills in your Frozen numbers?
RC: No. I do a little featured dance stuff which turns out to be amusing, I hope. I don’t have to sing and dance a lot at all! I feel like this track is kind of a gift to me after Cagney because it’s so fun to do but I’m not carrying the show. The pressure is off! (Though I do love carrying a show, too.) Weselton is very present throughout Frozen, he has a definite purpose in the story and he has funny and dramatic stuff to do. I have one costume and an overcoat as opposed to fifteen costumes! Plus, it’s a show that I’m going to be able to do on Broadway while I create and do other things. I’ll even be able to write! Plus, to have a 6 and 4 year-old who already love Frozen…they’re so in the pocket for me doing this type of production. Both of them are more in love with the little girls playing Anna and Elsa than they are Daddy’s character. They thought Daddy was funny, but my son has a massive crush on one of the little girls playing Young Anna. It’s hysterical.
TL: Being that Weselton is something of a bad guy, you must have received some pretty funny comments from kids after performances of Frozen.
RC: When we were out signing autographs, some of the littler kids would back away from me saying, “You’re not nice.” I’d say, “I’m not nice on stage, but I’m nice in real life!” That happened frequently. Little kids would hide behind their mothers. One little girl was smiling and I said to her, “Do you know who I played in the show?” She said, “You played the midget guy!” I laughed and said, “I think I am the shortest guy, there’s definitely a lot of tall people.” It was cute, but the funnier part was that the mother stepped forward and said, “Sweetheart, that’s not nice to say. You should say ‘little person.’” I was like, “Well, I don’t think I qualify for either of those, but relative to the two bodyguards behind me, I do look awfully short!” They don’t try to make me look like the guy in the movie. I play my own version of the Duke of Weselton. He has his own backstory and desires when it comes to Arendelle.
TL: When you perform your newest cabaret show at Feinstein’s/54Below on December 14th, you will be singing holiday classics, amongst other hits. What are your go-to holiday favorites?
I wrote an opening number called “Holiday Happy” which I’m really excited about. I’m doing a couple of songs that no one will have heard before. Of course, I’m doing some classic Christmas stuff, and I think we’re going to swing the dreidel song. I also have one song about a guy who’s half-Jewish and half-Catholic and looking for a wife. I grew up in a small town in Ontario, Canada with Christmas being my favorite time of the year, so I’ll do those songs that everybody who celebrates Christmas grew up singing: “Deck the Halls,” “Oh, Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bells” etc. My musical director Matt Perri and a trio of musicians are putting together some hot charts to put our own spin on things.
TL: How do you describe the process of creating a cabaret show?
RC: I make a giant list of songs and then go through them and figure out which ones I definitively want to sing. The hardest part for this one was finding a through-line and developing chitchat in between songs. My wife gave me the note that sometimes I talk too much, so I’m trying not to do that! The show is designed the way I go through the world; I like to leave people thinking about something and feeling uplifted, much in the way that I think Cagney did for people. I told my wife that I’m a better talker than a singer! All four of the girls playing Young Anna and Young Elsa are coming to sing with me at 54Below. We’re going to do two numbers together. They’re all little stars! They have different backgrounds so I’m going to ask them what their favorite holiday traditions are, similar to how Bing Crosby would do it on his specials when he would chat a bit and sing. It’s perfect for the holidays!
TL: You’ll be at Feinstein’s/54Below on the third night of Chanukah. What would be a great present for you to receive?
RC: I have a motto: “Smell good, feel good.” I love scents. I love wearing scents. I love when people smell good, not overpoweringly, but subtle. I love the sense and sense memory. Sometimes when I go on a trip I’ll buy a cologne that represents it. Then, whenever I put it on, I remember being there. That’s something most people don’t know about me!
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