Without the charismatic and intelligent performance of Rob McClure as film legend Charlie Chaplin at the heart of Chaplin the Musical, there would be precious little reason for this show to exist. Christopher Curtis is an acceptable composer, capable of crafting melodies and harmonic progressions that are pleasant, if limited in stylistic range.
One thing Curtis for sure is not: a musical theatre lyricist. There isn’t a lyric in the entire show that isn’t at best cliched or at worst painfully awkward. He enlisted the help of veteran bookwriter Thomas Meehan to good effect – the book scenes are the best thing about the show, not brilliant, but brisk and engaging. If he had done the same thing with the lyrics and engaged a skilled and experienced musical theatre lyricist, Chaplin could have been a much better show.
Better, but, even with stronger lyrics, I still don’t see much of a reason for the show. We learn nothing about Charlie Chaplin that wasn’t more interestingly and soulfully expressed in Richard Attenborough’s 1992 biopic. And so I come back to McClure: he takes everything given to him – especially Chaplin’s cinematic mannerisms and private personality – and runs with it, with great energy and smarts. McClure’s performance holds the whole thing just barely together.
Director/choreogapher Warren Carlyle isn’t much help: his dances, as usual, are kinetic, even dynamic. But his decision to impose a black and white color palette on the show’s designers is truly deadly. Black and white film is the medium that Chaplin happened to have at his disposal, and over many years he became a master of it. By contract, Carlyle’s glib, too literal design choice undercuts all of the show’s comedy and much of its spectacle. It really sucks all the heat out of the piece.
It’s mediocre and overlong rather than truly heinous, and McClure’s stellar performance makes seeing Chaplin bearable. But I can’t really recommend you pay full price for a ticket to this one.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.