Some images are dear to us because they represent human ingenuity, resilience and resourcefulness. For this reviewer, one such is The Little Tramp making spaghetti of his shoelaces, but just the iconic silhouette is enough to bring fond remembrances.
|Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin in “Chaplin The Musical.” Photo by Joan Marcus|
The Little Tramp was, of course, Charlie Chaplin’s alter ego in enumerable silent films (and one talkie.) Chaplin’s life was far more complex. In “Chaplin The Musical,” enjoying an open run at the Barrymore Theatre, Charlie Chaplin’s (Rob McClure) story is laid out from his beginnings to his Academy Award acceptance in 1972. His is a tale of dignity and political activism, personal failings and professional successes.
|Rob McClure as Charlie, Zachary Unger as Young Charlie/Jackie Coogan, and Christiane Noll as Hannah Chaplin. Photo by Joan Marcus|
“Chaplin The Musical” is definitely Rob McClure’s big moment. His performance shows a far more nuanced Charlie than the bare bones of the script outline (book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan.). Ambitious, and talented, with a vision of the world instilled in him by his mother, Hannah (Christiane Noll) as a boy (Zachary Unger plays the Young Charlie) before her descent into madness, Chaplin was stubborn and arrogant, Although his fame supported his grandiosity, one of his four young wives describes him in passing to a too-interested Hedda Hopper (Jenn Colella) as difficult.
|Rob McClure as Charlie with Erin Mackey as Oona O’Neill in a photo by Joan Marcus|
The first of these four women, Mildred Harris (Hayley Podschun), who at seventeen had the wiles to trick him into marriage, is lovingly portrayed and beautifully played.
|Rob McClure as Charlie with Wayne Alan Wilcox as Sydney Chaplin. Photo by Joan Marcus|
The last, Oona O’Neill (Erin Mackey) sacrificed family (her difficult father was the great playwright Eugene) for “What Only Love Can See,” as Christopher Curtis music and lyrics put it, in marrying the much older Chaplin. The couple retired to Switzerland where Chaplin lived out his exile until the Academy honored him with an Oscar in 1972 for his Lifetime contributions to the cinema.
|Lisa Gajda, Rob McClure, Emily Tayra in a scene from “Chaplin The Musical.” Photo (c) Joan Marcus|
Rob McClure is supported by a superb cast,– Broadway veterans like the excellent Christiane Noll and Michael McCormick (who plays Mack Sennett and a bit part as Chaplin, Sr, and United States Attorney General McGranery), and the less seasoned, like Wayne Alan Wilcox as Charlies brother Sydney, to name a few– all of whom contribute to make “Chaplin The Musical” an extremely entertaining evening of theater.
Chaplin’s biography is a big-story, and “Chaplin The Musical” is no less ambitious than its eponymous subject. Unfortunately, the play does not rise to the grand scope it sets for itself, getting stuck in lovely and touching sentimentality. The songs are catchy, without being memorable; they seem to require too limited a range from the fine singers. “Chaplin The Musical” never gets past seeing The Little Tramp as a biographer of his own sad tale.
For more information about “Chaplin The Musical,” visit www.chaplinbroadway.com.