Telling the story of Chaplin from the age of a young boy to his honorary Oscar in 1972 at the age of 83, Chaplin is your typical musicalized rags to riches story of a man who was in the right place at the right time but one with such talent that he became the leading image of the Silent film era.
Chaplin's life was full of highs and lows, from his young life on the streets of London and the times he and his mother worked in the music halls there, to his star making years in Hollywood that ended up with him not only being the highest paid film star but also allowed him to own his own studio and produce, write and direct his own films. The musical also shows his later years when the "talkies" threatened Chaplin's way of work, his success of his portrayal of a comical Hitler in The Great Dictator and how his desire to be something of a political presence made his political views to be questioned and ultimately forced him to leave the country. And while the show doesn't shy away from Chaplin's desire for teenage girls, it doesn't focus too much attention on it and even turns his first three wives's divorce proceedings into a boxing match.
|Rob McClure, Zachary Unger and |
The cast is first rate with McClure giving a performance of many layers. Whether he is the young Chaplin trying to make his way in Hollywood or the older Chaplin who realizes that the cinema and the world have passed him by, McClure has the appropriate blend of subtlety and realism to his portrayal. He is a great physical comedian as well. The most impressive moments come when he is first in Hollywood, afraid he is about to be fired, and draws upon the many people he remembers seeing on the streets of London to concoct the character of "The Tramp." Using bits of the characters we saw in the opening sequence, he takes parts from each of those people to build upon each other until "The Tramp" is born. This scene alone will stick with you for a very long time and is perfectly set up and staged by Director Warren Carlyle. While McClure doesn't have a lot of songs to sing his second act solo "Where Are All The People?" is one that is quite effective.
|Rob McClure and Erin Mackey|
The score by Christopher Curtis is his first for the stage, and while some of the songs are more ho-hum, there are several that are very effective including a rousing ending number "This Man" that builds to an emotional choral finale. The book is by Curtis and Thomas Meehan and while the various moments in Chaplin's life sometimes come across more on the melodramatic side to a certain extent, they somehow make it all come together and works as a musical.
A few quibbles: the second act focuses mainly on Hopper's attacks against Chaplin's political beliefs, which we are led to believe all stemmed from Chaplin's refusal to give her an interview. This turns Hopper into the major villain of the musical, and makes one believe she was the driving force to make Chaplin leave the US, both points which I don't think are fully accurate. Also, there is a weird theatrical framing device of having the entire musical as scenes within a film about Chaplin. This means the scenes start with an ensemble member saying something like "Chaplin, scene 1, the early days" while holding a film clip board, as if the musical is a movie within the show. However this disappears about 1/3 of the way in and I don't recall any of these scene openings even existing in act two.
But with McClure's break out performance, a fairly stellar supporting cast and a clear storyline, Chaplin is a show I think any fan of Charlie Chaplin or musical theatre will enjoy. The sad thing is, I'm sure many people under the age of 30 have no idea who Charlie Chaplin even is. In a year when so many of the film companies are celebrating their 100th anniversaries it is fitting that this musical is on Broadway to allow us a way to remember one of the people who was there almost at the start of it all.
Official Show Site
Highlights from the musical: