Talent? Creighton has it in spades. It all started with those black and white films…
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s with great pleasure we announce our special guest, Robert Creighton, Robert Creighton is an actor, singer, dancer, composer and author, thank you so much for joining us.
Paul, it’s my pleasure.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
Well, that is the beginning and you know what? I grew up in a little town north of Toronto in Ontario Canada and as most lads in the town I grew up in, dreamed of a career in the N.H.L being a goldl tenor on the drama ‘Make Believe,’ but that dream was rivalled by my dream to be Fred Astaire, I was… at a very young age being introduced to the old movie musicals and for some reason, I just had an infinity for them right off the bat, those were the things… when people ask me about the cartoons and the things you remember from childhood, I remember my parents letting me stay up late to watch the black and white films, you know, and then carrying me to bed half way through when I fell asleep. That’s sort of how the dream of being in New York and on Broadway, my love for music of that era, that’s how that all began and then I was in a boys choir for many years, which was really a musical foundation for me, for eight years I sang from the age of seven I sang in a boys choir and got great training in that way. Then, by fifteen I went away to a school, a boys school where they had really great arts programme and all the sports, so I could do everything at once, and then I did a degree in music, in Ontario, then I moved to New York, which was always the plan from a very young age and studied acting for three years, and sort of carried on from there.
Of the various things that you do; acting, singing, dancing, composing, writing, would you say that one is more your master than the other?
Yes, I think that my foundation is probably my sensibility is as an actor first, my training was both musical and in acting but I think acting is my first… although singing is the biggest part of my life that’s for sure but I would say there’s… I’ve been very lucky I work a lot.. I mean my… currently my sixth Broadway show and I’m loving it, and I’d say there’s much better singers, better dancers and all that sort of thing, but I have a package that sort of suits me, I love to.. you know, I love to do all of it and luckily I’ve been getting to do all of it, so I feel very fortunate.
You mentioned earlier Fred Astaire, what are some of the other artists that have influenced you in the path of becoming an artist yourself?
Well, certainly from a young age it was Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and all those greats from that era, then, when I got to New York, I tried to imitate them as a kid, had a lot of fun doing that and then when I moved to New York I was in acting school and the teacher said “you remind me of Jimmy Cagney”, and I’m sort of built…I’m built just like Jimmy Cagney and looked quite a bit like him and you know, tap dance and do all those sort of things and I didn’t know much about him, I knew sort of, Yankee Doodle Dandy and maybe a couple others, but wasn’t really on my radar in a big way, I started watching his films and instantly became mesmerised with who he was as an actor first of all, just.. you… just his… he’s so dynamic on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him and at that point when I was really studying the craft of acting, really felt like he was someone who was ahead of his time in terms of his craft and all that, and then as I started reading about the man and who he was as a person how he worked and what his philosophy was on life and on his work, I just fell in love with who he was and I think he’s been.. James Cagney I would say has been the biggest influence in that way and that was currently dreamed of writing a show about his life, which, thanks to some collaborators who know a lot more about doing musicals than I do, we put a musical together, we’ve had three successful runs and we’re plugging away at that..so…
What was the experience of working on and co-authoring and conceiving this Cagney show?
First of all when I got out of acting school, his estate, Cagney’s estate run by a woman named Marg Zimmerman was… they had a play that had been written by sort of, by a friend of theirs, of Margie’s and it… they held massive auditions around New York and everywhere, and I was just coming out of acting school, I guess it was about a year and a half out of acting school, it got down to me and one other guy and, it’s actually a vivid memory and in fact I have the audition on video tape, because it was the first time I’ve ever been picked up in a car, they sent a car for me and went up to this restaurant in Stanfordville that this woman Marg Zimmerman owned and all of Cagney’s old friends were there, this is in ninety four, and all of Cagney’s friends were there, Harrison the boxer and different people and I had to do a fifteen minute, sort of, act and that’s how I got the part, but it turns out the play, as I know more about creating a show now, was, really there was nothing theatrical about it, it was just sort of a biographical telling and we work shopped it in New York and it just fizzled out, the man who wrote it wasn’t really a writer, he was a marketing guy, he passed away and it sort of fell apart. But that put a spark in me that someday I’m going to do a show about James Cagney, and then in the late nineties I really started putting pen to paper for a one man show about his life and sort of conceiving how that would, you know, the story I wanted to tell about who this person was, then in two thousand and two I was playing Tamone in Los Angeles in a production of Lion King there and a gentleman who I’d done a play of his up in Canada, who lived in Los Angeles, I invited him up to see the show, I met him when he came to see our production in Canada and we got chatting afterwards, his name’s Peter Coley, very successful playwright and I got chatting with him about my ideas about Cagney and he said “well, I love that era of Hollywood and I love James Cagney and let’s have lunch and we should talk more about it”, so we started talking. He really brought… well, I brought all this passion about Cagney and wanting to do the show and he really brought this knowledge of how to craft the piece and make something theatrical and we sort of hashed out a story together and he began writing it and I would sort of take it and be sort of the eyes and be the Cagney officinal, let’s call it that and sort of using my instincts as an actor and we sort of crafted the piece together and I started writing music and lyrics and we sort of tried to put in songs of the era but when we found they couldn’t completely tell the story, I started writing music and lyrics myself which I’d done some of before, it started to fit pretty well, so we kept going on that route and finished one draft of my music and lyrics and his book and a couple of the old time songs Cohan songs which you can’t tell a story about Cagney and leave those out. We did that, and for a year for the stage, a reading of it in New York and they agreed to produce it and they introduced us to a guy named Christopher McGovern who helped me flesh out the score and ended up really writing more than half the score and he’s a tremendous, just an amazing composer and smart about putting a musical together and the last piece with the Director named Bill Castellino who really started to help to break this all down and then build it all up in a much better way and he sort of served as dramaturgy and we… so we’ve got a piece now that we were still working on but, really, we found an audience that really respond to, we won the Carbonell award in Florida for the best new work when we produced it down there and we set two box office records in Florida, it’s been a very exciting journey, probably for me the most.. even as much as this new album that’s coming out, it’s been like a baby to me, those are the two things that have really sort of been a dream in my head and then have come to fruition and that are so, so satisfying on every level, and I’m starring in it of course, so you know, satisfying on that level too.
I wanted to talk about the album, the new album coming out ‘Aint We Got Fun,’ what do you think of your new album?
‘Aint We Got Fun’ was one of the first.. I had two titles that I was sort of playing with it in the beginning, the other was old school, Robert Creighton old school and ‘Aint We Got Fun’ because I love that song and I knew I wanted it on the album, it really was right from the beginning what I thought would be the title of the album because I wanted that to be the nature of the album, I wanted it to be really fun and really something that people could… you know, most of the songs on there, even if you don’t know you know them, you know them, you’ve heard the melodies before, they’re so engrained in the fabric of our culture here and I have two original songs on it that I wrote for Cagney, but the rest… and I’m told they blend in well, some people who don’t know that those are the ones that are literally from the twenties and thirties, so, I really wanted it to be fun and I put on there songs that I love, that get stuck in my head and that I find myself walking down the street singing and like Cagney, it was sort of a project that I conceived and really was passionate about doing it because I just love that music so much, and I thought it would be a great thing to have when I go do my Cagney show to have in the lobby so people who love this music can take it with them, and then I was interested in a part and got in touch with Georgia Stitt and did a work shop of her musical called ‘My Baby’ that she was writing and it had some of this old music in it, and her arrangements were so great and she is so talented and such a great person I started talking to her, I said “hey, this is my idea, would you maybe like to get involved?” Then she jumped in with both feet and produced and arranged most of my album and she gave it this fresh take to the songs and I would sort of.. some, she would just say “why don’t we do it like this” and other times I would say “I want to do it like this” and then she would put these two songs together and she would figure out the puzzle of how to do that, it was a great collaboration, and it grew into something that I didn’t expect, I thought it would be this little thing that people would take with them and it grew into a really legitimate album that I’m very proud of with horn sections and band all the way through and motion and a lot of fun, so that’s what I wanted, it started out I wanted it to be fun and that’s where the title came from and I feel like we’ve accomplished that, so I’m excited for people to hear it.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Whooooo, that is a tough one, that’s a tough question. Do I have a favorite song? Well my favorite song, which is a song that’s been… looking it up on the internet, it’s been recorded fourteen hundred times by six hundred artists, so it’s not like anyone was scrambling for the next version of ‘I’ll Be Seeing You,’ but it is truly, since I was twenty one, in my early twenties I did a review right after singing that song, it’s one of my favourite songs and in our treatment of it a guy named Joe Burgsoller played flugel horn and his playing on there, the thing on that song and when he added flugel horn, I just can’t get enough of listening to that part of it, him playing flugel horn, it’s so beautiful and romantic and passionate, so, I like that one, I really enjoyed singing it and putting together ‘Accentuate The Positive’ and ‘Look For The Silver Lining’ with my friend Tyse Bergis who sang with me on it there, that’s the real highlight of the album, it’s a big arrangement, lots of.. you know, the horn section and all that, I loved doing that one, and then of course getting to sing with Joe Grey, who recorded ‘Give My Regards To Broadway’ with me, we’re working together in ‘Anything Goes’ right now, we became good friends and he agreed to sing with me, that’s just a moment in time that was a gift to me that I’ll have forever, I mean he’s such a legend and just a great man and we got to go into the studio and do that together and that has great sentimental value to me.
How did you go about selecting which songs that you were going to record?
That was a bit of a process because, of course, there was a long list of great things from that era to choose from and one that I loved to do and who knows, maybe there’s another one coming, someday because there’s a lot that I wanted to do that we didn’t do. I knew I wanted to put my… these two of my original songs ‘Crazy About You’ and ‘Falling In Love’ on there because they are songs that I had, recorded … we have a demo for the musical of course, but I wanted to record them in a really full way, because I really enjoyed writing them, I loved singing them and I knew they were going to be on there, and then, I knew I needed to have some George M. Cohan and ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ has sort of been my signature song for years and years and that first review where I sang ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, I did a big version of ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ and I’ve done.. you know.. that’s been my party song for years, so I knew that was going to be on there, and then when George agreed to sing with me, you know, I wanted it to be a Cohan song, which of course, he originated the role of George on Broadway and that was just a great connection that we have, cause the Cagney thing, and then the other ones, it just came down to artist’s songs that I just can’t get out of my head. ‘My Buddy’ is one of the most beautiful melodies ever I think, and I used to just walk around humming it, I thought “well, I’d better do that and get it out of my head”, the first track on the album is ‘Dad’s Medley’ and those were two songs that I remember singing when I was three and four years old, ‘Aint She Sweet’ and ‘Five Foot Two’, my Dad used to sing them, my Dad… he would tell you this, I’m not speaking out of turn, he’s not much of a singer, but he loves to sing and dance and he used to sing it all the time and I remember singing them with him in the living room when I was three and four years old, so, I wanted to have a little dedication to him and put those songs together. Yeah, they were just, basically my favourites, ‘You Are My Sunshine’ is on there, which I got to sing with one of my best friends Heidi Bookinstaff, which is just one of the most remarkable voices, it came down to a lot of my favourites really, to be honest with you, and there’s more to be mined from that, ‘I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl’ was one of my other favorite tunes of the era and it was Georgia’s idea to do that one, a male quartet, and so I had.. that turned out to be a really neat track because I got four of my buddies, great Broadway singers to do this Barber Shop quartet backing me up on that one, that was fun, it was a tough collection though. I’ll tell you one song called ‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,’ did you know that song before?
I did not know that song before.
Yeah and neither did I. Turns out it’s been recorded a tonne of times, but I didn’t.. and I know the music of this era pretty well, I had for some reason not heard of that song, and neither had Georgia and she was doing a show called ???? and I was going through that old music Tin Pan Alley and I was going through a thick book, just sort of reading lyrics and I had most of the songs I wanted to do and I was just looking to see what I was missing and I read the lyrics and then I sort of pumped it out on the piano, I was like ‘oh my gosh’.. I loved this song and I just walked around for days singing it and as soon as I introduced it to Georgia and she sort of played it out one time when we were together on the piano, and we were like ‘oh yeah, got to do this one’, and that turned out to be a really fun track to do with brass and the whole deal, but it’s such an up song and sort of reflects my philosophy on life and I thought, ‘you know what? I’m going to do it,’ so, that’s probably a longer answer than you wanted but that was the process for choosing the material.
Well, the album, your album is entitled ‘Aint We Got Fun’, the new album from Robert Creighton, debut album, introduced by Georgia Stiff, she is a person that’s name comes up a lot on this show.
What was the experience of working with her like?
I can’t say enough good things about Georgia, I mean, she is.. I think her name’s coming up a lot because I think she is a really rising presence in the musical theatre world and in the composition world, she is first of all.. I mean, basically she is super talented and super smart, and then she has a really great ear for arrangements and how to flesh things out, take just a simple song and then… and make it something that’s going to be really fun to listen to, and she’s really smart about putting that all together, I feel like… I said this to her just the other day, she lives in LA now, but was visiting New York and I said ‘I really couldn’t have done this without you’ and I feel that way, I mean, she just.. she took my idea of doing this album and some of the songs and things and just came up with.. you know.. just made it all better, which was great, we had a very easy collaboration in that way, some of the songs she said ‘hey, what do you think of this, ‘My Buddy’ it was her idea to do just guitar and the ??? and I think it’s just a nice ‘breath’ in the album, you know, amongst all the other ?? songs and then, for example, all the medleys were my idea and then she just figure out, you know, the math of putting those together, for example the Barber Shop quartet, that was her idea, on the opening track there’s a kazoo, which turns out was her husband’s idea, you know, we would figure it out and she played what we had for her husband and he said ‘what about a kazoo’ and we all wentsaid ‘yep’, so.. it was a great collaboration, I feel very fortunate to have worked with her and I’m sure we’re going to do lots more together as we go along.
Everyone can visit your web site it’s robercreightonnyc.com what is the best thing about being Robert Creighton?
Well, that’s an easy question right now, I have a twelve week old son, also named Robert Creighton, Robert James Creighton III, and a phenomenal wife who is his Mother, so, I mean, yeah as to right now, it’s no contest, it’s the best thing about being me right now, I get to wake up with them every day, and that aside, there’s the ?? Foundation ?? and then, I’ve just been really lucky, I was a little kid living North of.. you know, a little town North of Toronto and the novelty has not worn off, I’m constantly aware of how lucky I am to get to do what I dreamed of doing, and this album is sort of another manifestation of a dream coming true right now, so I feel very, very lucky.
I have a final question for you. We have listeners all over the place, so what would you like to say to the people who are listening in?
I would like to say that I don’t think there’s anyone who buys this album that didn’t have fun listening to it, even if you think ‘oh this is maybe not my kind of music’ or, you know, even young people I’ve played it for, I have a lot of nieces and nephews who are between the ages of eighteen and twenty three, who, ‘Five Feet Two’ and ‘Ain’t She Sweet’ is on top of their iPod list, of course they’re bias, but they’ve all got the album now and I’ve gotten great reviews even from that demographic, so I think I’d love people to hear this music, to be an album you can play, put in the car and just when you’re…. you need a ‘pick me up’, it’s something you can put in and it will accomplish that and I hope people have a chance to hear it.
So, Mr. Creighton, I thank you very much for this interview, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you.
Thanks Paul, it’s been great talking to you, thanks very much.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON.