Born to Entertain!
By Lynn DiMenna for Cabaret Scenes
When I saw Robert (Bobby, to family and friends) Creighton perform for the first time, I immediately thought of the musical Ruthless’ song “I Was Born to Entertain.” In Creighton’s case, it’s quite obvious, he was just that…born to entertain, from the tip of his nose to the tap of his toes. It’s impossible to imagine he would have been happy doing anything else. Despite having five older siblings, his parents encouraged him to pursue his many interests. Naturally, growing up in a small town in Canada, one dream was to play goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though his athletic aspirations dissipated, his visions of performing on The Great White Way in the manner of his idol, Fred Astaire, became more focused. How he made that dream come true is a classic story of talent, training, timing and perseverance.
After touring with The St. Michael’s Boys Choir for several years and acquiring a solid musical foundation, he added studying piano and trumpet and continued learning his craft, perfecting his skills, and engaging in numerous competitive festivals. It was auditioning for the role of the lead in Oliver! in the tenth grade, however, that set the course of his future career. Going into the audition, he was quite confident of getting the lead, but instead was given the role of Oliver’s beloved sidekick, the Artful Dodger. Although devastated at the time, playing the far more interesting character role became his specialty. He played the role in three separate productions and has considered himself a character actor ever since.
As a teenager, he continued his studies at the prestigious Grenville Christian College and starred in numerous Gilbert & Sullivan productions. He discovered tap at the equally prestigious Banff Center School for the Fine Arts and became a voice major and earned a BA degree at Wilfred Laurier University. All these experiences, including years of summer stock and regional theater productions, prepared him well for his arrival on The Great White Way in New York. In 2003, he finally made it to Broadway, appearing in Jackie Mason’s Laughing Room Only. The show ended abruptly, but it was the realization of one of several dreams. However, like all new, talented Broadway hopefuls, along with a wonderful series of character roles in shows like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Anything Goes and appearances on TV sitcoms and in national voiceover spots, he has also spent years engaged in what he accurately and humorously describes as numerous “artistic non-income producing activities” as well.
Firmly established on the Broadway scene, a series of fortuitous events began to fall into place, paving the way for the realization of Creighton’s ultimate dream to bring his much-acclaimed, long-anticipated production of Cagney to NYC’s The Westside Theatre in March of 2016.
When he first arrived in New York, while studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, a teacher recognized his uncanny resemblance to James Cagney. He, too, realized he not only looked like him, but he also shared a very similar physicality and stature. Intrigued, Creighton devoured everything he could find out about the Hollywood icon and became convinced that a one-man show of Cagney’s life would be worth pursuing. However, from the outset, his intention was never to imitate the legend, but only to try and capture his essence and “make it real”! He took his lead from Cagney himself, who was quoted as saying, “I don’t believe in imitation. You can only do what they did. Be yourself and tell the truth.” It has been his guiding principle throughout all the readings and productions leading up to its upcoming Broadway debut.
Starting out as a one-man show with Creighton himself calling all the shots, the show has picked up an extraordinary “dream team” of creative talent and support. Creighton collaborated with Peter Colley on writing the book and, soon after, Bill Castellino came on board to direct. The show already included many of the George M. Cohan songs that Cagney himself sang in his own portrayal of the great American musical pioneer and patriot— songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Over There” and, of course, “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” (AKA “The Yankee Doodle Boy”). but Creighton had also written several original songs he wanted to include and, together with composer-lyricist Christopher McGovern, tightened them up and added them to advance the storyline.
Cagney had already had a series of out of town successes, including winning the 2009 Carbonell Award in Florida for “Best New Work,” but meeting Riki Kane Larimer at The Friars Club in March of 2015 was also a tremendous boon for the project. Larimer was so enamored with Creighton’s performance during an evening of entertainment, produced by Jamie deRoy and Laura Slutsky, that she soon became Cagney’s executive producer.
With Larimer’s support, the show finally found its way to New York in May of 2015 at the York Theatre, where Artistic Director James Morgan added his set designing skills and, with a cast of six, a five-piece orchestra and the dazzling tap routines of choreographer Joshua Bergasse. The show received rave reviews and created additional theater buzz.
Larimer, for her part, is delighted to be a part of the Cagney team and enthusiastic about her role as producer. “I’m crazy about Bobby and, although I’ve been an investor in a lot of shows, I’ve never been a producer. I’m enjoying making all these important decisions.”
Another admirer, record promoter Len Triola who helped distribute and promote the CD Creighton recorded in 2014, Ain’t We Got Fun! (which includes selections from the musical), had nothing but high praise for Creighton as well. “He’s a mensch, a quality guy and what you see is what you get! He gives you every reason to like him. He has a great sense of humor and is on his way to become a major dynamo.”
Debbi Bush Whiting, Margaret Whiting’s daughter and the granddaughter of Richard Whiting, who wrote the music to title song of Creighton’s CD (lyrics by Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn), became an ardent fan after seeing him perform at last year’s Cabaret Convention. “I was so impressed. I researched him immediately because he struck me as a wonderful old-school-style entertainer.” She added, “I can’t wait to meet him and hear him sing my grandfather’s song.”
Fortunately for Debbi, she won’t have long to wait. He’ll be returning to the Metropolitan Room on February 8 for a Valentine’s Day-inspired show featuring brand new songs and, hopefully, some favorites from his CD and Cagney score as well.
To say the stars have aligned to keep this project moving forward would be an understatement. All the elements are now in place and one can only hope that with Cagney’s upcoming Off-Broadway run, these three supremely gifted, triple-threat entertainers—Cohan, Cagney and Creighton—will all get the continued attention and accolades they so richly deserve.