“Chaplin” brings star Rob McClure into the limelight by Kevin M. Thomas


“Chaplin” star Rob McClure. photo by Joan Marcus

There’s never been a more loving postcard to old Hollywood than you will find with the musical “Chaplin,” playing on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

I was lucky enough to see this wonderful production on its pre-Broadway run at the La Jolla Playhouse and I think it’s gotten better since reaching New York.
Supported by a great book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan (and songs by Curtis), “Chaplin” seems a pointed portrayal of the famed Hollywood icon Charlie Chaplin aka the Little Tramp.

As a longtime fan of Chaplin (and “Chaplin”) the shows seems legitimately accurate and makes quite a tale: young Londoner actually thrown into the limelight to help his ailing mom and her stage career. And thanks to his own talents, charms and inventive storytelling, Chaplin soon skyrockets from vaudeville to Hollywood star.

The show doesn’t just create a hero out of Chaplin. It makes him real, not shying away from his womanizing ways and self-serving stubborn streak, which effects his personal and professional life.

The show successfully incorporates scenes of “old” film with lead star Rob McClure so immersed in the role it’s hard to believe that it’s not the real Little Tramp on stage or in the movie clips. 

McClure skyrockets to stardom much like Chaplin. His beautiful, heart wrenching and determination reach a kaleidoscope of emotions, making me even a bigger fan of Chaplin – and a new fan of McClure. Can I vote for the Tony Awards now?

McClure is aptly supported by a great ensemble including Christiane Noll and Wayne Alan Wilox as Chaplin’s mother and brother. But this is definitely a star vehicle for McClure.

The show seems to be playing to 70-80% capacity – which is great post-hurricane. But whether you’re a fan of Chaplin or don’t even know who he is, this loving tribute to a legend and Hollywood itself should make your priority list and a great option for a holiday present.

Some footnotes about Charlie Chaplin:

Rob McClure as “Chaplin” photo by Joan Marcus

* Chaplin made $150 a week in December 1913 and a year later was making $1,250 per week
* After a while in Hollywood, Chaplin made movies outside of Tinseltown starting in Chicago and then in the Niles district of Fremont, CA
* By 1915, he was making $10,000 a week, which soon jumped to $670,000 a year for the 26 year old
* Some of Chaplin’s most notable films – “The Kid,” “The Immigrant” and “The Gold Rush” were made before there were even Academy Awards. Chaplin actually has three Academy Awards – but two were honorary – one at the first year of the Oscars for writing/directing/starring in “The Circus,” after the Academy removed his name from the individual categories.  He also received a special Oscar in 1972  after Hollywood welcomed him back after he was exiled for allegedly being a Communist. The only Oscar he won in competition was for Best Score in 1973 for “Limelight,” which actually was filmed two decades earlier but not released in the U.S. until he was pardoned for his alleged red activities.
* Chaplin didn’t want to let go of making silent movies; his last silent movie, “Modern Times,”was released 1936, released after talkies came out.
* Chaplin was also an accomplished composer (besides winning for Best Score),writing the melody for the song “Smile,” popularized by Nat King Cole, and “This is My Song,” a Petula Clark hit from Chaplin’s last film “The Countess of Hong Kong”
* Geraldine Chaplin, a contemporary actress who was in “Nashville” and “Home for the Holidays,” among others, is his daughter
* His son, Sydney, named after his brother/manager, was a singer/actor who was nominated for two Tony Awards, including Best Actor for “Funny Girl,” starring Barbra Streisand