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“Chaplin: The Musical”, What Would Charlie Say…

September 15, 2012

Rob McClure as Chaplin in Chaplin: The Musical

OK, I admit my knowledge of musicals is weak, but my knowledge of good theater is not…and “Chaplin: The Musical” is definitely good theater.

“Chaplin: The Musical” explores the highs and lows of Charlie Chaplin’s life, his mother’s illness, his four marriages and his relationship with his brother. We are shown the deep repercussion felt by his mother’s slide into madness then being institutionalized and the effects of his father’s alcoholism. We see a tortured boy become a man of standing, whose demons’ colored his life but were not allowed to defeat him.

Zachary Unger’s Broadway Debut was very much a success. What a talent, Mr. Unger played a very young Chaplain who was first introduced to performing when his mother, Hannah, (portrayed by Christiane Noll), was being booed from stage. He jumps up and finishes her song and this is first time Charlie is applauded, acknowledged for something he had done well.

The young Chaplin follows his mother through the streets of London as she encourages him to “Look At All The People”. This helps mold Charlie Chaplin and helped in his discovery of “The Tramp” persona.

Enough cannot be said about Rob McClure’s performance as Charlie Chaplin. His resemblance to the real Chaplin was uncanny and when the show used silent film footage, we were not sure whether we were seeing McClure or Chaplin on the screen.

But it was the transformation of Rob McClure’s Charlie Chaplin to the iconic figure of the “The Tramp” that bought ohh’s and awe’s then applause from the audience. One minute he was the everyday Chaplin, and then he simply turns around and becomes “The Tramp”.

The technical aspects of the show brought so much to this production; you felt you were watching a black and white movie. There were very little color, more muted grays and shades of subtle blues used in both the costumes and the sets. The one focal point of color during the show was a red rose, first given to Chaplin by his mother and it would subsequently appear at times as a gentle reminder of his mother before the mental institutions.

Chaplin: The Musical

Jenn Colella  as Hedda Hopper was dynamite, she lit up the stage whenever she was on it. Her brassy voice just lent credence to the believability of her character, the ruthless Hopper. Chaplin bruises her larger than life ego and she makes it a goal to destroy him. She wrote sordid tales of Chaplin in her column and some say she was the reason he came to the attention of the United States Immigration Department. (When Charlie went to the premiere of “Limelight” in London he was not allowed back into the country.)

In the Second Act, “What’cha gonna do when it all falls down” we begin to see Charlie Chaplin as a real person and not just his well love persona “The Tramp”. We see the toll of the three divorces and a paternity law-suit, the relentless hounding of Hopper, his brother’s desertion and his growing ego.

Chaplin seeks to find himself again with a return to “Where Are All the People?” in which Mr. McClure shines. He ventures though his memories of happier times with his mother and then into her decline into madness and how it acquaints with his fear of abandonment.

But one of the great moments in the production was when Chaplin watches a film of Hitler that was to precede the making of “The Great Dictator”, his last film. He mimics Hitler, speaking with a thick German Accent, turning nonsensical ramblings into hilarious antics of Goose-stepping and brisk imitations of Hitler’s salutes and the mannerism of his speaking.

Christopher Curtis’ score had depth and takes your heart on an emotional journey. The story by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis does a good job of sorting through the life of Chaplin and bringing to the forefront several poignant moments. But, it’s too long, the musical could do with some serious edits, it was a little over two and a half hours plus a 15 minute intermission, it could absolutely be tightened.

From the slums of London to the heights of Hollywood, CHAPLIN is a Broadway musical about the silent film legend the world cannot stop talking about.—Charlie Chaplin. It reveals the man behind the legend, the undeniable genius who forever changed the way America went to the movies.

Ethel Barrymore Theatre

243 West 47thSt. between Broadway & 8th Ave.

Tickets are on sale through February 3, 2013.

Tickets & Info

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