Chaplin, the new musical that chronicles the life of The Little Tramp, Charlie Chaplin, lacks buoyancy and zip. Add to that a lackluster score and a pointless Act II and you end up with the first major disappointment of the new Broadway season, which is a shame because of the mostly winning performance by Rob McClure as Chaplin.
The musical starts off with an affecting look at Chaplin’s impoverished younger years in London, his early music hall days, family (brother Sydney and mentally ill mother) and, finally, his formative years in Hollywood. The book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan provide an engaging and entertaining look at Chaplin’s growth in the movie industry. Director/Choreographer Warren Carlyle moves the production along with a steady hand. The problem holding back Act I from blossoming is the colorless and banal score by Christopher Curtis. The action on stage is engaging enough, but there is no musical spark to energize the show, to elevate it from a conventional biography to a spirited Broadway production.
Heading into the second act the show simply implodes, for a variety of reasons. First, the book by Curtis and Meehan turns from a mostly absorbing and satisfying examination of Chaplin’s movie-making and personal life to an unappealing and listless mess focusing solely on Chaplin’s left-leaning political sentiments as well as the witch hunt conducted by gossip queen Hedda Hopper to discredit the man. That’s Act II. Chaplin gives speeches supporting the Russian people. Hopper, upset because The Little Tramp will not appear on her radio program, prowls the stage digging up dirt on him and trying to prove he is un-American. Not exactly absorbing or enthralling musical theater. Second, the score by Christopher Curtis continues to be humdrum and forgettable. Third, the choices by Director/Choreographer Warren Caryle, agreeable and adroit in Act I, become tired and aimless later on. The Act II opening, where Chaplin dukes it out in a boxing ring with his ex-wives, is rather strange. A roller skating number, with only three skaters, is tame and boring. All the freshness and wonder surrounding Chaplin’s early days has simply vanished.
Rob McClure, as Charlie Chaplin, is lively and energetic. He also displays the pathos and intensity of a ground-breaking artist. I hesitate to wonder what the show would be like without his talents. The rest of the cast is fine. Yet only Zachary Unger as the young Chaplin truly resonates with the audience.
Chaplin, one to miss.