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Who You Calling a Little Tramp?

January 8th, 2013

The Broadway Blog welcomes contributor Scott Redman, who offers his take on the Original Broadway Cast Recording of “Chaplin, the Musical.”

“Chaplin,” the bio tuner based on the iconic silent film star Charlie Chaplin, closed its Broadway run Jan. 6 but the show lives on via a cast recording produced by Masterworks Broadway, a division of Sony Records.

The musical colors Charlie Chaplin, a respectable Rob McClure in the title role, from black and white beginnings in dreary London into a Technicolor Hollywood where he searches for happiness and success in the pictures. The laborious musical attempts to tell his entire life story from boyhood to senior. Chaplin’s life is great material for a musical — humble beginning turned to fame, fortune, exile, etc. Unfortunately the show’s recording mirrors the same problems it had at the Barrymore Theatre — a lack of focus and style. “Chaplin” delivers a pastiche and often-generic sounding score that doesn’t sound like anything new or unique.

The opening number, “Look at All the People” performed by Charlie’s mum, a clear voiced Christiane Noll, sets up the mother–child relationship but doesn’t launch the show or create an energy to frame the musical. The second number continues with a vaudeville drinking song also performed by the mother. Listening to the first few tracks I found myself waiting for the show to start and asking, “Who is this show even about?” Its not until Charlie arrives in Tinseltown does the action of the play really get going.

Once Chaplin moves to Hollywood the score becomes predictable with tracks “Just Another Day in Hollywood” and “Life Can be Like the Movies.” These numbers are bouncy and resemble the period but lacks content to drive the plot forward or develop the characters into something the audience can empathize.

At the end of the second act Charlie meets Oona O’Neil played by Erin Mackey who delivers an emotionally robust ballad, “What Only Love Can See.” Its here where you imagine the potential of what this show could have been with stronger lyrics and song spotting.

“Chaplin,” released by Masterworks Broadway, is available on iTunes or Amazon.
A national tour is scheduled for 2014 as well as a production in São Paolo, Brazil.
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