Rob McClure: Smile




by Marilyn Lester


An occupational hazard for many reviewers is the possibility of becoming jaded. Fortunately, there is an antidote – those rare times when a remarkable talent comes along to deliver a psychological shot in the arm. Such a one is Rob McClure, who in his New York City solo concert debut seemed to possess the power to make all wrong things right again. The Tony-nominee is not only blessed with a ton of talent, but is charming, witty, intelligent and wonderful fun to boot. McClure’s first triumph was to transform the usual, “my journey so far” narrative into something special. Carefully curated songs, starting with the opening “Mr. Rogers Medley,” authentically mirrored the events of McClure’s life, beginning with an early childhood visit to the Big City and Broadway lights.


Who wouldn’t love a Jersey Boy, anyway? McClure grew up just across the river from Manhattan in north Jersey, where the right of passage of going “down the shore” was brought to life in the reminiscent “On the Way to Cape May.” Already, McClure’s enthusiasm, optimism, and comedic skills boded well for the evening. And then came “Manhattan” with McClure’s wonderfully impassioned (and funny) plea on behalf of lyrics (music to a wordsmith’s ears), including a witty contrast and compare demonstration. (A gentle reminder about the value of lyrics came later in the show with “I Love Betsy.”) “Manhattan” also showcased pianist/music director James Sampliner’s creative, fresh arrangements and the prowess of McClure’s mini-orchestra of Alex Eckhardt (bass), Dan Berkery (drums), Ben Kono (reeds), Clint Sharman (trombone), and Jami Dauber (trumpet). Somewhat later on in the show, more of McClure’s educational bent was demonstrated with a glorious and valuable “lesson” on the “under-appreciated” art of orchestration.


Adding to his appeal, McClure also proved a generous kind of guy. Numerous friends were on hand to share the stage and be feted by their colleague. Matthew Scott performed an emotive “Johanna,” before being joined by McClure for “Pretty Women.” Both singers have mastered phrasing, nuance, modulation and the fine points of knowing when to belt and when to be restrained. Jenn Colella joined McClure for “It Takes Two,” with ebullient collaborative chemistry. McClure’s Avenue Q cohorts arrived with puppets and high spirits galore. Ricky Lyon with the puppet Nicky sang “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” and a “Leading Ladies Medley” featured Lyons (with Nicky), Jen Barnhart and McClure with his Avenue Q puppet persona, Rod.


When a really fine actor is also a fine singer, the result can be intensely gratifying, and so it was with McClure’s rendition of “one of the greatest songs ever written,” a vulnerable “You Don’t Know Me,” and with an equally sensitive rendition of the encore number, “Smile.” Both songs allowed McClure to demonstrate vocal range. Although he’s most comfortable as a light tenor, McClure has the ability to transcend traditional Broadway styling and effectively and pleasingly inhabit a lower vocal register with a more studied approach. The philosophical side of McClure was revealed in his penultimate song, “For Now.” The take-away from this super-charged evening was maximum-voltage feel good.


Smile, with its delightful, multitalented star, supporting cast, intelligent narrative, creative arrangements and swinging band was an impeccable demonstration of how to construct a perfectly balanced micro-Broadway revue. What’s even better is the feeling that McClure himself is having a heck of a good time – a feeling that’s deliciously infectious.


Rob McClure: Smile, July 1 and 2 at 7 pm

Feinstein’s/54 Below, 254 West 54th Street, 646-476-3551,

Photos: Maryann Lopinto