Theater review: 'Chaplin the Musical'
NEW YORK – Movie buffs will likely be drawn to “Chaplin the Musical,” which just opened on Broadway, by the silent film star’s iconic mystique, and they’ll no doubt be charmed by the play’s few tips of the bowler hat to Chaplin’s signature moments on screen. And no one can argue that deft star Rob McClure hasn’t perfected the Little Tramp’s cane-twirling waddle, lithe athleticism and gift for wistful pathos.
But as is sometimes the case with big-production Broadway shows, the occasional grace notes and the clever metamovie moments are drowned out in a soupy wash of sepia-toned production design, hammy choreography, glibly sentimental psychobabble and a score of clichéd and forgettable show tunes.
Earnest and self-serious to a fault, this lavish stage show proves, if nothing else, that even a savvy crew of Broadway veterans can slip on that burlesque banana peel and fall flat on their faces. “Chaplin” features music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis, who co-wrote the book with three-time Tony-winner Thomas Meehan (“Annie,” “The Producers,” “Hairspray”). And it’s directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle (“Finian’s Rainbow,” “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway”).
But despite that creative firepower, the play wobbles unsteadily from larky slapstick to dark psychodrama and from moments of visual ecstasy to routines of ham-handed musical overkill.
The story takes a linear path through Charlie Chaplin’s eventful life – with a seemingly endless barrage of flashbacks – beginning with his impoverished childhood in London, through his international cinema stardom and on to his self-imposed exile in the wake of scandal and accusations of anti-American sympathies. Much information is relayed via garish newspaper headlines splashed on the rear wall of the set.
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