Rob Lowe in Chicago
I purchased tickets to Lowe’s “Stories I Only Tell My Friends: Live” on a lark. I emailed my wife last December and wrote: “This could either be really fun or embarrassingly bad. What do you think?” We decided that either way, it would be worth the price of admission. It was, and not because the show was a trainwreck the way, say, Lowe’s singing performance at the 1989 Academy Awards show was. Instead, the evening was a perfect mix of anecdotes, history and funny one-liners, with a few moments of enlightenment thrown in. Unlike Carol Burnett, whose talking tour I attended two years ago, Lowe didn’t shamelessly self-promote his book and he presented a tighter, better-rehearsed performance.
I’m not a Rob Lowe fan, per se – not the way many in the audience at Saturday night’s event at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago were. The woman next to me, who’s vision was blocked during a pre-show slideshow that briefly projected Lowe’s shirtless cover from Vanity Fair, went to her phone, brought up the photo, and kept it as her screen saver. There were fans holding signs, fans who applauded to even the most obscure movie reference, and fans who jumped up and down when the spotlight illuminated Mr. Lowe after the slideshow concluded with a scene from West Wing.
It felt slightly canned at times, especially when the audience didn’t react quite the way he expected (his story about meeting Lucille Ball at the same ’89 Oscars was really cool, but when he revealed her photo, it didn’t quite get the reception that it probably should have, which left him forced to instill meaning more forcefully), but the show was highly entertaining, partly because Lowe is – simply put – so damn likable.
These types of talking tours – which I wish more actors would conduct – are successful only if the audience can truly relate to the actor, and there’s no better way than for the performer to master the art of self-deprecation. Lowe made fun of his looks, which so often capitalized on his more feminine side – especially early in his career – and his “Midwestern people-pleaser” personality that has sometimes led him to say yes to gigs that were downright embarrassing. His description of Barry Levinson’s facial response to Lowe’s aforementioned 1989 Oscar performance was priceless.
Lowe can do more than facial expressions: his impersonations Saturday night included Bill Clinton, Cary Grant, Robert Wagner, Francis Ford Coppola and Tom Cruise, who sounds like as big of a douchebag in real life as many of us suspect he is. But Lowe’s show wasn’t a celebrity-bashing performance. He made it clear that assholes generally don’t last long in the industry, and that the bigger the star, the nicer they are. This is good to hear, and it sounds like Lowe, with his modest roots in Dayton, Ohio, hasn’t let success go to his head. He deftly answered fan’s questions during the Q&A portion of the evening, and he lovingly talked about his wife of twenty-seven years, his two adult sons, his father who was in attendance, and the people who helped him during his recovery from alcohol and drug dependence.
The breadth of Lowe’s career is astonishing for an actor who’s only 54 years old. It’s already spanned forty years and has included numerous movies and TV shows you might have forgotten about. Remember Brothers and Sisters? How about Dr. Vegas, a show that lasted all of six episodes and denied Lowe a chance at staring in another little program called Grey’s Anatomy? He admitted that his two most important works were West Wing, which led the cast to a meet and greet with President Clinton in the oval office, and The Outsiders, a telling of the classic S. E. Hinton novel that springboarded the careers of not only Lowe, but Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Diane Lane and Matt Dillon. When asked about his favorite movie and favorite movie location, Lowe quickly responded About Last Night, filmed in Chicago.
I could kick myself for not having seen shows by Carrie Fisher, Nora Ephron and Peter Gallagher, and I’m glad my wife and I decided to take a risk with Lowe. I wasn’t exactly a fan when I entered the building, but left the theater with a bigger appreciation for the man.