Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Broadway: Chaplin, the Musical

Charlie Chaplin is an American film icon, although he was born and raised in England. The Broadway musical Chaplin takes us from his childhood through his triumphant return to America at the 1972 Oscars with a story that keeps the audience interested and involved all the way through.

Rob McClure gives a star-making performance in the title role. The role is very physical, and McClure doesn't so much mimic Chaplin as he brings him to life before our very eyes. Many people don't know much about Chaplin, just that he was a silent film actor who was called the Little Tramp for the character he created.

Chaplin was brought to America by silent film producer/director Mack Sennett and after a rocky start, he became a powerhouse writer, actor and director. We see his climb up the ladder, his genius in creating films that the American audience wanted to see. With his brother as his manager, he moved from studio to studio, earning record sums of money before starting his own studio.

He also had a taste for women- young women, mostly. He married and divorced three times, and there is a funny song and dance about the three wives who received record divorce settlements from Chaplin.

The show really takes off in the second act with the introduction of Hedda Hopper, the famous powerful Hollywood gossip columnist. Chaplin refuses to go on her radio show for an interview, and Hopper becomes enraged at this. Jenn Colella is spectacular as Hopper and her powerful voice shines in two of the best songs in the show, "Just Another Day in Hollywood" and "All Falls Down."

Chaplin is disturbed by Hitler's actions in Europe and after his movie, The Great Dictator parodying Hitler is a huge hit, Chaplin is asked to speak at rallies supporting American intervention in Europe. Many of these rallies were attended by Communists, and Hopper used this fact to try to get the US Attorney General to arrest and deport Chaplin.

We see how these two powerful, egotistical and stubborn people, Chaplin and Hopper, butt heads and when Hopper finds a young woman who says that Chaplin is the father of her illegitimate child, public sentiment turns against Chaplin. He takes his loving (and much younger) wife Oona and moves to Switzerland.

The last scene is Chaplin's triumphant return to the 1972 Oscars, where he received a standing ovation from the audience. He feared they would boo him, or worse be silent, but the thunderous ovation he received is something I vividly remember watching as a 10-year-old girl in front of my TV set. I got chills watching McClure give Chaplin's speech; it was an incredibly powerful moment on stage.

This is a show that has a great book, wonderful performances, and if many of the songs aren't particularly memorable, that is OK. My husband, who is not a big musical fan, thought the show was fantastic. Chaplin led an amazing life and seeing his story brought to life on stage by these performers is a treat not to be missed.

Jenn Colella singing at Broadway at Bryant Park Summer 2012

Rob McClure singing at Broadway at Bryant Park Summer 2012

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