Sunday, September 23, 2012

Troubled Life of a Great Funnyman in 'Chaplin the Musical'

Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin The Musical." Photos by Joan Marcus.


it just a cliché that tragedy informs the lives of funnymen?

“Chaplin The Musical,” through 6 Jan. 2013 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, makes it clear that it was a deep sadness that dogged the great comedian in all his creative endeavors.

Charlie Chaplin (Rob McClure) is haunted by the insanity that took his mother Hannah (Christiane Noll) from him when he was merely 7, (Zachary Unger plays the boy Charlie.)

CC, along with his brother Sydney (Wayne Alan Wilcox) went from the London slums into the family business, vaudeville. CC’s success on the stage drew the attention of Mack Sennett (Michael McCormick) who lured him to Hollywood via a cablegram offering him the princely sum of $150 a week. His success in films got him ever more phenomenal sums of money from competing movie companies and eventually his own studio. (See video below of "Chaplin" on the streets of New York City.)

Hedda Hopper (Jenn Colella) has a bone to pick with Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin The Musical.

“The Little Tramp,” the sad and funny character he created for Sennett, brought him worldwide adulation and fame. Like the character he created, CC was complicated. Although he brought his brother, his friend, Alf Reeves (Jim Borstelmann), and eventually his mother to America to be near him, he quarreled with the two men and never visited his mother.

“Chaplin The Musical” has much to recommend it especially RMcC’s brilliant star turn. He is backed by a very fine ensemble, including Hayley Podschun as Mildred Harris, wife No. 1, and Erin Mackey as Oona O’Neill, the fourth and final Mrs. C. In addition, there are impressive high-wire effects, guided by Bobby Hedglin-Taylor, billed as Tightrope Trainer, and lovely party scenes staged by director/choreographer Warren Carlyle.

But “Chaplin The Musical” is a flawed, if charming production – not unlike the man whose story it depicts. In its ambitious scope, the book by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis (the latter of whom is also responsible for the lyrics and music), begins in London in 1894 and ends in Hollywood in 1972. However, it is unfortunate that CC’s rich biography, including forays into political activism – some of which raised the ire of Hedda Hedda (Jenn Colella in an amusing portrayal) – is crammed into such a thin plotline.

It is not enough to depict the genius that created a legendary and iconic cinematic image as a man mourning childhood losses. By repeatedly referencing his mother’s madness, the writers posit it as the sole motivation for CC's every action.

Though it is a musical, “Chaplin” has no memorable songs, but “Life Can Be Like The Movies,” “The Life You Wished For” and “Look At All The People” come close. On the other hand, “This Man” – meant to be a tribute to CC’s greatness – is overwhelmed by its own cacophony. The thin tunes, which ask so little of the able cast, work mostly just to flesh out the tale.

Rob McClure as the great entertainer (and company) in “Chaplin The Musical.”

In all fairness to the writers, a bio-musical covering such a wide swath of history needs to find a hook in order to focus and use its time wisely. However, as is the case with “Chaplin The Musical,” it is easy to lose sight of the complexities of the subject in attempting to simplify the plot.

Visit to learn more about “Chaplin The Musical.”

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .