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
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.