Friday, September 14, 2012
I learned about Chaplin’s life in this large (24 people) show at the Barrymore Theatre-- his traumatic childhood with an alcoholic father and mentally ill mother, his start in show business as a child in the slums of London, singing in music halls with his mother, his rapid rise to success once he moved to Hollywood and the controversy that ended his film career. But I never felt any emotional connection to the character, portrayed by Rob McClure, or, at least in the first act, to the show, directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle.
The first act portrays Chaplin’s genius at unearthing and growing the character that was to become the Little Tramp and make him a fortune, eventually with his own movie studio. But McClure doesn’t have the comic flare to capture that comic craziness.
His funniest moment occurs in act two (most of the best moments occur in act two) when he’s watching a news reel of Hitler and starts parodying him because “the son of a bitch stole my mustache.” Out of this came yet another successful movie, “The Great Dictator.”
But the world, and the movie business, changed sharply in the 30s. Chaplin resists moving into talkies, but is more than willing to talk out about his sympathies toward Russia, which eventually alienates his fans and leads to the dissolution of his career.
“I miss the days when you didn’t speak,” his friend Alf Reeves (Jim Borstelmann).
The show ends as Chaplin returns to Hollywood from Switzerland where he has been living for decades with his fourth wife, Oona O’Neill (Erin Mackey), and their eight children to receive an honorary Oscar. The ghosts of people from all stages of his life filter in to sing “This Man,” which was nice, but once again I didn’t feel any engagement between McClure and his character.
I did like the show’s atmosphere. Set designer Beowulf Beritt and costume designers Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz do a great job of creating the word of old movies by using shadings of black, gray and white almost exclusively. Even Angelina Avallone’s make-up carries out the gray theme.
Christopher Curtis’s music is sweet but his lyrics are pretty much forgettable even while they’re being sung, with the exception of two songs, “What’ cha Gonna Do (When It All Falls Down)?” and “The Life That You Wished For.” Curtis also wrote the book with Thomas Meehan.
Zachary Unger is excellent as young Charlie, appearing throughout the show in flashbacks, and Christiane Noll is moving as Charlie’s mother. Wayne Alan Wilcox is good as Charlie’s older brother, Sydney, who becomes his manager. The relationship between them is the strongest one in the show.
Chaplin comes to Broadway following a successful run two years ago at the La Jolla Playhouse where it received its world premiere under the title Limelight and won McClure a Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Lead Performance in a Musical and was voted Outstanding New Musical.
For more on the Broadway production, visit ChaplinBroadway.com.