Saturday, September 22, 2012

CHAPLIN: THE MUSICAL

Today, I was fortunate to see "Chaplin: The Musical" on Broadway. I can only write my review of this show as one who truly, madly, deeply loves Chaplin the artist and the man. If you want objectivity, sorry, I can't oblige.
First things first: the show (book by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis; music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis) is neither a biography nor an examination of his work, although both are included. Instead, it is a musical portrait of a time and a colossus of the era. America at the dawn of the twentieth century was a place where dreams could be lived and the past could be obliterated. Like Gatsby, those with a shady, painful, uneducated - you fill in the blank - past could reinvent the present and no place provided a better opportunity for all of life's refugees to start anew than Hollywood, California, USA. All you needed was determination and a dream.

The early Hollywood scenes were especially well done. True, Mack Sennett is reduced to a rather bombastic bully, Mabel Normand is barely mentioned and Edna Purviance is totally omitted (I was sad about that), but, as I said, this is not a biography. The freewheeling, frenetic pace of the early movie-making era is joyfully presented and the audience loved it. The entire production is done in shades of black, white, sepia and gray. Only one special occasions do we see red, usually in the form of a rose, as a symbol of love.
Chaplin's personal story is well known. The show focuses on his adoration of and traumatic separation from his mentally ill mother, Hannah. The complicated relationship Chaplin had with her as a child and as an adult are beautifully portrayed. His pain, sadness and shame in her and himself are the thread that was woven over and over again into his work his entire life. In a film, order can be restored. In a film, a mother's love can triumph. In a film, a little boy is safe.
The women, the marriages and divorces, the political damage - all are touched upon, as are many of the great films. The music is fine and touching and blends well with the story. We know that exile is coming, but we also know that he will find the love of his life, Oona O'Neill. Their courtship and love affair are charmingly portrayed, culminating in his 1972 appearance at the Academy Awards.
No matter how wonderful all of the above is, however, there would be no show without Rob McClure. He is magical as Chaplin, never a caricature, always a whole human being. He moves like him, looks like him, and for those of us who love Charlie, this is about as close as we will ever get.

Ultimately, this is the story of a great man, a genius, whose fame is immortal. Almost 100 years after his first film, his image is still vital. There are many stars of bygone eras whose photos would draw a blank if you asked a young person to identify them. But Chaplin never draws a blank stare. They might not know his work, but they know the image. The Little Tramp is forever because he touched that innocent, undamaged yearning in our hearts. It was a creation of genius. Once you open your heart to him, he will never leave.

And now, I am going to watch a Chaplin DVD (preferably one with Edna Purviance) because I just love that man!




13 comments:

Edna's Place said...

Thanks for the report. Glad you got to see it. :-)

I don't mind Edna isn't in it. My dream would be a bio-pic of Edna's mother. Story about an immigrant teenager coming to America with her family and the life she had growing up, marrying, raising three daughters in the western US, with all the good times and struggles in that long life. (Oh, and one happens to become a movie star, of course. ;-) But much more than that.

(I think I've seen/read Charlie's story often enough, I like to see something fresh on his story and matches more of the journey I have had researching. So much is still miss, and really haven't captured the real man behind the makeup and comic bits.)

Thanks for your report! Glad you enjoyed it!

FlickChick said...

When you know a lot about a person, you have to check that at the door for a show like this. The show did capture the enormity of his celebrity and fame and many driving forces. I'm just so glad that it was a beautiful tribute to him And, of course, McClure was just perfection. If he doesn't get a Tony award I'll be very miffed.

said...

How cool! Chaplin's life and career gives issues for several films and plays. I'm glad you went to watch the musical and liked it, it probably was magnific, according to the beautiful photos.
Kisses!

Samantha said...

I am so happy that you got to see it. For those of us on the west coast who love Charlie, well we can only hope that someday it will come here. But in the meantime. I am happy you got to see it and loved it (minus Edna).

FlickChick said...

Le, you are a sweetheart. Yes, Chaplin's life and work are so rich that it is an endless source of inspiration.

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Samantha. I wish you were here to see it.

silverscreenings said...

This looks like a terrific show. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. :)

KimWilson said...

I must need to get out more, because I had no idea this even existed. Sounds like you had a good time.

FlickChick said...

@Silverscreenings - it was so wonderful - I wish every film lover could see it.

FlickChick said...

@Kim - this has been a long time coming to Broadway, but once I heard of it there was nothing that was going to keep me away!

Valarie Joyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Valarie Joyce said...

Now, that's my kind of review, but, as you know, I, too, am "one who truly, madly, deeply loves Chaplin the artist and the man." ;) However, with that said, your piece was beautifully written. Well done, FlickChick! The paragraph at the very end couldn't have been better stated => just wonderful. I can't wait to see "Chaplin" when it comes out my way!

FlickChick said...

Valarie - I really do wish you could have been there because I know you would have adored it.