Chaplin the Musical on Broadway
by Anthony Chase
I was delighted to find myself drawn into Chaplin the Musical at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway. I didn’t know what to expect from this musical biography of the great star of the silent screen era. The allure of the Chaplin persona as recreated in an astonishing performance by Rob McClure proved to be irresistible for me. Intrigued by details of Chaplin’s life, afterward, I was inspired to spend time researching his career.
Chaplin the Musical takes a tremendously sentimental tone reminiscent of Chaplin’s films. It also takes some bold liberties with the details of the man’s life. Nonetheless, the show delights us as it reminds us of the life and legacy of an amazing artist. Rob McClure’s physical resemblance to Chaplin and ability to recreate the magical Chaplin physicality are uncanny and his performance is incandescent. It is amazing to watch moments from Chaplin’s films recreated with astounding precision and life.
In a conversation with McClure after the performance, I asked if any of the Chaplin family had seen his performance. McClure answered that Chaplin’s granddaughter Kiera Chaplin (daughter of Eugene Chaplin) had, indeed, seen the show, and had sent a highly complimentary message afterward. In her letter, she inquired about the vivid film clip of Chaplin walking into the California sunset as the Little Tramp used in the play’s final scene. It seems the family had spent the weekend trying to recall from which film the clip had come. “I cried when I got the message,” McClure revealed. “Because that isn’t her grandfather on the screen at all—it’s me!”
Indeed, McClure’s recreation of the Chaplin persona is that remarkable.
Chaplin’s iconic film career began nearly 100 years ago. In 1972, when I was a child and Chaplin attended the Academy Awards to accept a special Oscar, I remember being surprised that the man was still alive. This week when I told my college theater students I had seen the show, many did not know who Chaplin was. NYU students sitting behind me at the performance were puzzled to see sets and costumes in shades of black, white, and gray, and opined that the production had “a very Tim Burton quality”—oblivious, of course to the fact that in films like Frankenweenie, Tim Burton is paying homage to the era of Chaplin, who continued to make silent films, well into the era of talking pictures. (City Lights was made in 1931, the same year as Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein.)
After an opening number featuring McClure, as Chaplin walking a tight rope, the show picks up the Chaplin story when the man was a child performing with his mother in London Music Hall. In this establishing sequence, Chaplin’s mother, played by Christiane Noll, teaches young Charlie how to observe life. The story quickly follows Chaplin to Hollywood, and there focuses on his rise to stardom, his relationships with women, his banishment from the United States during the McCarthy era, and finally his triumphant return in old age. While the treatment is hokey at times, the details are mostly accurate or anchored in real events and lend marvelous intrigue to the production.
Buffalonians may have wondered why Chaplin the Musical has been advertised so heavily in local theater programs. There is a local connection. Buffalo-based Rich Entertainment Group is among the producers—their third Broadway venture this year, after Leap of Faith and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Chaplin the Musical has music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis with a book by Curtis and three-time Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray). Warren Carlyle has directed and choreographed the show.
For me, however, the mesmerizing performance of Rob McClure as great Chaplin eclipses all other elements of the show.
Additional information about the show, including a few video clips, can be found at chaplinbroadway.com. For special ticket and travel packages, call the Travel Team at (800) 245-8326.
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v11n42 (Week of Thursday, October 18) > Theater Week > Chaplin the Musical on Broadway
This Week's Issue • Artvoice Daily • Artvoice TV • Events Calendar • Classifieds