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Tuesday, 18 September 2012 10:35

Broadway Review: CHAPLIN

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Rob McClure in CHAPLIN Rob McClure in CHAPLIN Photo: Joan Marcus

It pains me to see genius celebrated with mediocrity.  Thus is the case with Chaplin, the new musical that just opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater.  The show's color pallet is wan and pallid, much like the show itself.  The music is forgettable and the lyrics, vapid.  It is patchy as regards Charlie Chaplin’s life with large portions missing (no mention of his founding and ownership of United Artists), a cut-and-paste musical if you will. 

The major bright spots come from the cast itself. Rob McClure shines in the title role of Charlie Chaplin. He has the Tramp down to a tee. This performance will certainly guarantee McClure a bright career future. His precise mimicry of the Tramp's signature schtick: the walk, the hand perched on his lower back and the cane swing are what the audience is delighting in, not the material itself.

The talented Jenn Colellais bitchy syndicated columnist Hedda Hopper. She belts the hell out of "All Falls Down," a rhetorical question to Chaplin about his predilection for young (some might say underage) girls. He marries them and then proceeds to philander on them. Most of them went to court and took him for a great deal of his fortune.

As Chaplin's brother, Sydney (also an actor), Wayne Alan Wilcox convincingly conveys the bitter on again, off again relationship with his famous brother. Christiane Knollas Chaplain's mentally ill mother is strikingly sympathetic in the role and her voice is lovely.

Chaplin was married four times. Hayley Podschun is sassy as Chaplin's first wife, Mildred Harris. His fourth marriage to Oona O'Neill (daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill) was his longest. Oona is lovingly played here by Erin McKay. Chaplin's second and third wife, Lita Grey and Paulette Goddard respectively, are mostly glossed over in this musical.

A couple of the transitions facilitated by director Warren Carlyle and lighting designer Ken Billington were impressive. The musical focuses heavily on Chaplain's childhood experiences and the influence it had on his art (leaving his mother at an insane asylum and having to fend for himself on the street.) Carlyle uses a front-lit scrim with young Chaplin in front of it with his mother. A projection of Chaplin appears on the scrim, as the projection begins to fade, Billington's lighting comes up on the adult Chaplin behind the scrim. These transitional moments back and forth between Chaplain's past and the present serve the piece beautifully.

Chaplin came out of the New York Musical Theatre Festival and also had a production at La Jolla Playhouse. I was hoping for more from this musical with such a pedigree but found myself completely disappointed.

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Last modified on Monday, 15 October 2012 07:28