BWW Interviews: Director Marc Robin Thrives on 'Regional Theatre Playground'
He has directed and choreographed over three hundred shows on American regional theatres stages from Chicago to Philadelphia to Houston, Kansas City, and Phoenix, been nominated for over seventy awards, won sixteen of fifty-three Joseph Jefferson nominations! He is currently the full time Artistic Director of the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA, but that will not stop him in the coming season from staging productions not only in Lancaster, but also in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Brunswick, ME, to name but a few gigs already planned.
"Regional theatres are the places that are focusing on art first and commercial aspects second. Regional is where new works begin today and where quality theatre exists. I love the playground of regional theatre," the Florida born, fifty-two-year-old Marc Robin exclaims with enthusiasm when I am able to catch up with him shortly after the opening of Maine State Music Theatre's highly acclaimed East coast regional premiere of Mary Poppins. Robin, who also staged Dreamgirls and LES MISERABLES in Brunswick this summer, confides, "I like to be busy. I don't wind down. I always think I am supposed to be doing something. But that's because my work is my passion."
Robin's energy and enthusiasm are clearly contagious, and it is evident in his animated conversation how much he loves his profession. He recounts the magic that drew him to the theatre as a child. "I played Toto in The Wizard of Oz when I was four, and I am told that at age five I walked over to a piano and began to play without ever having taken a lesson. I think I loved the attention at first, but I soon realized that this was what I was born to be. Everyone has something he is supposed to do. I discovered my passion early on, and thanks to my Mom's encouragement, I was able to work toward a theatrical career from age six onward. I attended classes at the Children's Theatre School in Fort Lauderdale until I was fifteen, and then I went to the High School of Performing Arts there. I did the national tour of One Thousand Clowns when I was ten and lots of commercials. In college I met Randee Lefkow, who took me under her wing and told me she thought I could become a dancer. At her urging, I went to New York to study at the Step Studio where my amazing teachers included Ann Reinking, Honi Coles, Peter Gennaro, and Rebecca Wright."
In addition to this intensive dance training, a sequence of other opportunities helped establish the young Robin as an in-demand dancer-actor-singer. "I was twenty-one and had just moved to Chicago, and I auditioned at the Marriott Theatre for Dominic Missimi. I was cast in Gypsy as the back end of the cow," he laughs. The job earned him his Actor's Equity card, however, and formed a collaborative friendship with Missimi that endures to today. Robin's big professional break came when Bob Fosse cast him in the national tour of Dancin', the last production the famous choreographer would mount before his death. "That altered my life as a performer and as a director-choreographer," Robin recalls.
As Robin began dancing, he gradually realized that he had a desire "to create the dances," and slowly he progressed to assistant choreographer, dance captain, assistant director, choreographer, and finally, director. Robin sees his life "as a series of doors which have lined up, and one after the other has opened. Sure, I've had my knocks, but I feel incredibly blessed to continue to do what I enjoy for the people whom I love."
Though Robin has phased out dancing after an onstage injury a decade ago, he has no regrets about moving on. "I loved performing, but I love directing and choreographing even more. I realized that as a performer it was the rehearsal process where you figure things out that always intrigued me most. I love the blank slate."
From the start musical theatre has figured prominently in Robin's body of work though he has directed straight plays like Driving Miss Daisy and August Osage County, among so many others. "There are moments in life when you are so excited that you want to sing, and in a musical, you actually get to do that!" Robin, whose resume is a virtual catalogue of musical theatre history - everything from Crazy for You, 42nd Street, and Miss Saigon to Sunset Boulevard and Sweeney Todd - says that at the moment he finds himself drawn to "shows with a dark center like Sweeney Todd, LES MISERABLES, or Big River," though he still loves doing comedies and big dance productions "because they keep me in shape. Mary Poppins is the first big dance show I have created in a while," Robin says. "I love the challenge in big musicals of painting pictures, of figuring out the formations, the mechanics - where everything goes - in the larger tapestry."