deliasherman (deliasherman) wrote,
deliasherman
deliasherman

Chaplin

I wanted to love it, I really did.  I like Chaplin (as an artist and a character, anyway--he wouldn't have been at all fun to know personally).  I like most of the historical periods he was active in.  I'm not enthralled with Hollywood celebrity bios, because narcissistic and utterly without sense of proportion, but I can make allowances.  After Priscilla of the Desert and How to Succeed in Business (not to mention On a Clear Day You Can See Forever), I feel that I can deal with a great deal of silliness and sentimentality as long as the production is good and the music doesn't offend my ears.

I'm sorry to report that I couldn't at all deal with Chaplin.

It's not that it was soppily sentimental--I'd expected that.  Chaplin himself was no enemy of the jerked tear and the staged poignant moment.  But at least when he wasn't being sappy, he was genuinely funny.  Chaplin wasn't funny, except inadvertently.  The third or fourth time the specter of his mad mother floated onto the stage, plucking heaven alone knows what from the air two feet in front of her, Ellen and I had to bite our lips to keep from laughing out loud. The touching number in which Chaplin creates the Little Tramp out of memories of his impoverished childhood on a London street was similarly risible.  Why do plays (and movies) about artists have to reduce inspiration to a simple (not to mention simplistic) equation?  Beethoven took a carriage ride in the Vienna Woods and wrote a symphony about what he heard.  Charlie Chaplin grew up poor and had Mommy issues, and all his movies are about social justice and impoverished, slightly mad women he can't quite connect to.  Also his Inner Child, a kid in baggy harlequin pants and a regrettable cloth cap whose acting was a whole lot more natural and affecting than the cringe-worthy dialogue he was given to speak.

Pretty much the same can be said of the rest of the cast.  They are all professional, and they all do their level best to make something substantial out of very thin material.  Oh, the songs aren't bad--or at least the music isn't, being reminiscent of each decade between the 1890s and the early 50's, when Chaplin's permit to re-enter the US was revoked for his Communist leanings.  And the costumes are splendid--all black and white and shades of grey, until the last scene, when everybody blossoms into Glorious Technicolor.  I coveted every stitch Hedda Hopper wore, and there was sparkly 30's number, with floaty panels. . . .

But I digress.  The cast is genuinely splendid, every last one of them.  Special kudos, however, have to go to Jenn Colella, whose Hedda Hopper has a perfect 40's Radio Voice, even when she sings.  She's utterly, gloriously slimy--I love that in a character.  I loved Michael McCormick, too, who manages to breathe some individual life into three very similar cardboard characters , and Erin Mackey, whose Oona O'Neill manages to undercut her cloying dialogue.  But I really have to take my hat off to Rob McClure, whose Chaplin very nearly rescues the entire stupid play.  Not only does he look so much like Chaplin that it's a little creepy, he inhabits the role with whole-hearted fervor.  When he's charming, he's delightful.  When he's mean, he's terrifying.  When he's sappy, he convinces you he believes every sentimental cliche that's coming out of his mouth.  That's acting, man.  
Tags: musical, review
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