The agony and the ecstasy of Anything Goes’ Robert Creighton
Robert Creighton made the decision that he would not understudy anymore. After covering roles in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Little Mermaid on Broadway, he felt that he was losing his spark, his “umph,” which Creighton cites as his greatest asset. But then along came the revival of Anything Goes, and as Creighton himself says, “[Understudying] Joel Grey’s a different story.”
Creighton has been covering Grey in the role of Moonface Martin in the Tony-winning revival since October 4, while Grey is sidelined by a foot injury he sustained while walking around New York. Creighton usually plays the role of the Purser. While most actors would be ebullient with the opportunity to play such a major role in a hit show like Anything Goes opposite the great Sutton Foster, Creighton is not in a celebrating mood. “When I found out Joel had hurt himself… I love Joel. I don’t feel comfortable really celebrating that I get to [play the role] when Joel’s hurt. If he was in Europe for a month, I’d be like, ‘Hey, I’m playing Moonface! Come and see me!’ In this case, I hope he gets better and I’m just doing my job.”
This is not the first time Creighton has gone on in the role. While the show was still in previews, Grey was unable to perform one Sunday due to a vocal injury. Creighton got the call at 11:30 a.m. and an hour later was on the stage of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre with Foster receiving his first rehearsal as Moonface. In addition to no prior rehearsal, there hadn’t been time for a costume fitting. Creighton brought his own suit and tuxedo pants to the show. “It was scary, but it was also the highlight of my career,” Creighton said.
VIDEO: Robert Creighton on his bold Anything Goes audition and bonding with costar Joel Grey
Aside from Grey’s scheduled two-week vacation last July, this is the only other time Creighton has had to take over. And he hasn’t been alone this month. Tari Kelly covered the lead role of Reno Sweeney the week of October 10 while Foster was out of the show with tonsillitis. This added another satisfying hurdle for Creighton to conquer. “[Tari and I] feel a special camaraderie,” Creighton said. “We climb that hill together. There’s a collective disappointment when the two name stars of a show aren’t there, but we’ve got it. We come off and high five each other. We’re having fun! We get to play in the sandbox.” On October 19, representatives for Anything Goes announced that Stephanie J. Block (9 to 5: The Musical, Wicked) will play the role of Reno Sweeny for two to three weeks in November while Foster films a TV pilot.
Although it’s a challenge that Creighton enjoys rising to, he understands how the audience has been effected by the recent maladies felt by the leads of Anything Goes. “Disappointment is a valid reaction when you’re coming to see a certain person, their take on the role, and a certain person who you know their history and their legacy. But I can’t do anything about that,” Creighton said. “My approach to it is I don’t worry about it. I know that I’m right for the role and I have a ball doing it. And the audience is going to have a ball too. Tari’s got a bigger hill to climb than I do. But 30 percent of the audience doesn’t have a clue. A friend of mine came to the show who isn’t a theater person and he said, ‘That Sutton Foster was really great! What a voice!’ And I’m like, ‘Well actually, that was the understudy.’”
So why the aversion to understudying, which led to the decision not to do it anymore? “I don’t want to be on that track my whole life of, ‘Hey, that guy’s a really good cover. He can sing and dance and do all the ensemble stuff and then go on and do a character role every once in a while.’ For my soul, I said I’m just going to commit to not doing that.”
Aside from making an exception for Anything Goes, the decision has been working out for Creighton. Prior to Anything Goes, Creighton starred in Chicago as Amos Hart last winter. He signed on for the principle role of the Purser in Anything Goes. Beyond Broadway, Creighton composed and starred in Cagney!, a musical about legendary film actor James Cagney, which had its world premiere at Florida Stage in 2009 and has since made its Canadian debut in 2010 and later that year played at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida.
Next, Creighton is poised to make his solo recording debut with the release of his jazz album of standards and self-written songs, Ain’t We Got Fun! Making appearances on the album, produced by Georgia Stitt, are such Broadway favorites as Kate Baldwin, Heidi Blickenstaff, Tituss Burgess, and even his Anything Goes costar Grey. “Basically, my favorite singers all happen to be friends of mine,” Creighton said with a laugh. “I don’t remember cartoons I watched when I was a kid; I remember Singin’ In the Rain, Summer Stock, and Royal Wedding. My parents were really into the movie musicals,” Creighton said of his affinity for that music genre.
The bold decisions Creighton has made in his career have resulted in noticeable progress. So how would he like to grow next? Creighton doesn’t need to look any further than the Sondheim Theatre’s stage for inspiration. “I look up to Joel. Not that I expect to have any of the accolades that he’s had, but in terms of the type of characters that he plays, I’m going behind him in a way as a character guy, song and dance guy,” Creighton said. “Joel sang a duet with me on my album—‘Give My Regards To Broadway.’ It was so kind of him to do. We did two takes. For me, it was an honor. I’ve got that forever.”
What do you think of Robert Creighton’s story, Rushers? Have you seen him as Moonface Martin in Anything Goes? Do you agree with his perspective on the challenge of an understudy? Tune into this week’s episode of Stage Rush TV for bonus footage with Creighton, including his intimate on-stage moments with Sutton Foster. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!