Chaplin, the musical "memory" that was once set for Broadway in the early 1980s but fell apart as rehearsals were dawning, will get its second regional Florida production in August, with Larry Raben, of the original Forever Plaid, as Charlie Chaplin.
The musical by librettist Ernest Kinoy, lyricist Lee Goldsmith and composer Roger Anderson was about to begin its first Broadway rehearsal in 1981 when producer Don Gregory, who initiated the show, announced that financing had fallen through, composer Anderson told Playbill On-Line. Director Joe Layton, designer Tony Walton, musical director Wally Harper and star John Rubinstein were all attached to the aborted production.
The abandoned script and score would eventually be produced in 1993, in Miami, where the show won a prestigious Carbonell Award. Producer Paul Bartz now has the commercial option, and he brought the piece to Sarasota, FL, producer-director Robert Turoff, who will stage Chaplin at his respected Equity dinner theatre, The Golden Apple, Aug. 14-Sept. 2.
Turoff said he hasn't staged a new or lesser-known work at the Golden Apple in 10-12 years because increased competition in the area prompts him to program sure-fire sellers. "It's hard to take a chance," he admitted. The Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, a commercial venture, is currently in its 30th year and celebrates its 250th show with the July staging of 1776. Back in 1971, it was one of the only theatrical games in town.
"What I like about this show is that it's not the Chaplin that we are familiar with — the later Chaplin, after the 'Little Tramp' and Hollywood," Turoff, a longtime Chaplin fan, told Playbill On-Line. "It's Chaplin as a child, it's a memory of his childhood." Turoff said the script's conceit has doubling and tripling of cast members to underline various tensions and relationships. For example, Raben will play both Chaplin and his father. His mother and his lost love will be played by the same actress.
The show opens with Chaplin visiting his London boyhood street, Kennington Road, and fighting the memories that swirl around him. "He creates a memory from what he would like to remember, and sometimes reality sneaks in without him knowing it," Turoff said, adding that the score is "captivating" and laced with a "haunting" recurring number called "Pretend." The song becomes a kind of aching theme — and secret to success, ultimately — in Chaplin's professional and personal life.
Chaplin's story is presented as a series of English music-hall turns, reflecting the world he was brought up in. The creators have called the show "a memory as entertainment." John Visser will musical direct the Golden Apple production.
Raben appeared in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!, in New York and Los Angeles and was seen in the world premiere of Joe DiPietro's musical, Men. He was a member of the original Off-Broadway production of Forever Plaid, and created the role of Sparky in London's West End and in Los Angeles.
Goldsmith and Anderson's Horatio Alger-based musical, Shine (written with librettist Richard Seff), got a reading in April, presented by the National Music Theatre Network in Manhattan.
Golden Apple Dinner Theatre is at 25 North Pineapple Avenue in Sarasota. For information, call (941) 366-5454 or (800) 652-0920.
— By Kenneth Jones