Theater Review - Chaplin the Musical (NY)

Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp, the baggy-pants character he created for film, stands front and center in black, gray and white on the scrim of the Barrymore Theatre stage. Suddenly, in his tiny black jacket with a twirl of his little black bowler and twist of his cane he comes alive with the help of Rob McClure, a brilliant performer, who not only sings and dances in this demanding role, but struts atop a high wire, skates, flips and moves with alacrity for two and half hours.  

 

Unfortunately, although there are entertaining moments during this new Broadway musical, the production does not live up to McClure's energetic and magical moments.  The cast is excellent, but Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan's plodding Book jumps from one scene to the other with little depth or perception.  However, I thought the score by Curtis was very pleasant with “Look at All the People,” “Life Can Be Like the Movies,”  “Man of All Countries,” and “ This Man”  effective.

 

The rags to riches plot focuses on the British Chaplin's love for and separation anxiety from his mother, Hannah, who was taken away to an asylum when he was ten. His dad, an alcoholic, left when he was an infant.  Christianne Noll is simply wonderful as Hannah, singing “Look at All the People,” which teaches Charlie to observe character in ordinary people.  Zachary Unger is a marvel as Young Charlie and Jackie Coogan, whom Chaplin tortures to get him to cry for the camera.  When he was 24, Chaplin was brought here by Mack Sennett (Michael McCormick), the filmmaker, and in a short time he became the most popular performer of his generation.

 

Chaplin also introduces us to the women in this great movie star's life. He weds three times and is pummeled in a boxing ring by all three, before he marries the much younger, 18-year-old  Oona O'Neill, here played by the darling Erin Mackey.  Oona was the daughter of the famed writer Eugene O'Neill, who disowned her when she ran off with 56 year old Chaplin.   When Chaplin was accused of being a Communist by the sharp-tongued gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, for which Jenn Colella should win a nomination, he was subsequently forced to leave this country.  He and Oona settled in Switzerland:  their union lasted for 35 years and they had 8 children. At the end of “Chaplin the Musical” Chaplin has been invited back to Hollywood to accept an honorary Oscar and receive a touching tribute from his peers.

 

I think this show is worth seeing for Rob McClure's bravura performance and the elegant black and white costumes designed by the late Martin Pakledinaz, who died last spring, far too early, at the age of 59.

 

“Chaplin the Musical” at the Barrymore Theatre.

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