By R.J. Donovan, Special to the BIR
Sean McGibbon is an unabashed lover of the Golden Age of Musicals. Among his idols, he singles out Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. So the fact that the he’ll be starring in “Singin’ in the Rain” at North Shore Music Theatre is a dream come true.
The talented tap-dancing actor will play Cosmo Brown, the role originated by Donald O’Connor in the classic MGM film, when the production plays the Beverly theatre-in-the-round from Aug. 16 to Sept. 4.
McGibbon was born in Austin, Texas. “Austin in the 90s was just about everything you could ask for,” he said in a phone interview. “It was parks and places to swim and a real artsy city . . . Austin, at the time, was one of the live music capitals of the world.”
He was a boy of many interests, and a lot of them centered on performing. He got involved in musical theater, became an accomplished juggler, tried his hand at magic, trained as a jazz pianist, was a varsity tennis player, competed at the national level in table tennis and was a member of the U21 National Kayak Polo Team.
McGibbon jokes that the diversity of his upbringing was a combination of being an only child and having a fervent case of ADHD.
He made his stage debut at the age of two in a Christmas pageant. He said, “I can remember the first applause I ever heard . . . I remember thinking, ‘Oh yeah, this is for me.’”
McGibbon’s family situation is unusual in that both his parents were adopted. While his adoptive roots are a convergence of Irish blood, his Mom found her birth mother in the late 90s, discovering an Irish lineage there as well. It also turned out that his biological great-grandfather – William E. Coyle – was a gifted singer. Coyle had been mayor of his town, sang with the Navy Band when he was in the service and had a career as an entertainer.
Six weeks ago, out of the blue, he received a recording of his great grandfather via Spotify. “He’s got a fantastic voice,” he said, proudly. “It was a moving moment.”
With a degree in musical theater, psychology, and jazz from Texas State University, McGibbon said, “I was really fortunate to have a lot of my training in a place called Austin Musical Theater . . . Really old school, very difficult training, very passionate. The productions they did were really, and I mean really, Broadway caliber.”
After graduation, he headed to New York with $1,800 in his pocket. He was fortunate to have already been cast in “The Great American Mousical” at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Connecticut. Adding icing to the cake, the show was being directed by legendary film and theater star Julie Andrews, based on her best-selling children’s book.
Working with her was a surreal experience for McGibbon. “She‘s a connection to the theater that I aspire to, and the people that I idolize,” he said.
He was cast as a tap dancing mouse, but an injury almost brought an end to his role. “I had a little tap solo I kind of shared with another guy named Ritchie . . . (it was a) tap battle and we ended it by jumping and falling into a jazz split. I had done the move maybe a hundred times.”
Unfortunately, one night he landed hard. With an attitude of “the show must go on,” he continued the performance and was able to get through the next few shows. However, his leg eventually gave out and “looked like kielbasa sausage. It was incredibly swollen. Apparently I had torn the meniscus in my right knee . . . My first gig, and I’m thinking ‘Oh, I’ll never tap dance (again)’.”
McGibbon was lying on a couch backstage when the phone rang. He said, “I pick up and hear ‘Sean? It’s Juuuules, darling. What happened?” And I say, ‘Oh Julie, they think it’s the meniscus.’ And she goes ‘Oh darling, something similar happened to me in ‘Victor/Victoria.’ It’s just terrible.’ She goes, ‘Do you need any soup? Can I take you to the store? And I say, ‘Oh no, thank you. Just you calling really means a lot.’”
“Forty-five minutes later,” he said, “her assistant comes over with two six packs and a large pizza. I was floored. I saved one of the bottles and I use it as a Christmas ornament now – Julie Andrews beer.”
After “Mousical,” he headed home to Texas for physical therapy. Returning to New York with no money, he said, “I really needed to make something happen. I was determined not to go back home. I stayed with a cousin of mine, Liam O’Flynn from Dublin, the most charming Irishman you’ve ever met in your life. He could go into a bar and say ‘I’ll have a Guinness’ and nine women would come out of the bushes.”
Making the rounds, McGibbons was cast in “On Your Toes” at City Center, the 25th anniversary tour of “The Buddy Holly Story,” and as understudy for the Jerry Lee Lewis role in the “Million Dollar Quartet” tour that played Boston.
As diehard fans know, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a comedic look at what happened when silent film stars faced the introduction of talkies in 1927. A big studio decides to capitalize on the advent of sound by making a splashy musical with two of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. But the leading lady can’t sing a note. So an unknown chorus girl is brought in to dub her voice – to the star’s rage.”
The American Film Institute lists “Singin’ in the Rain” as it’s No. 1 Movie Musical as well as No. 5 on its list of Top 100 Movies of all time.
The show’s score includes “Fit As A Fiddle,” “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” and, of course, the title number performed in an onstage rain shower.
The character of Cosmo is “a bucket list role,” McGibbon said, “and something that really got me into performing in the first place. So I’m just over the moon.” He added humbly, “Talk about having big shoes to fill.”
R. J. Donovan is Editor and Publisher of onstageboston.com.
“Singin’ in the Rain,” August 16 - September 4, North Shore Music Theater, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Info: 978-232-7200 or nsmt.org.