The American musical by composer Roger Anderson, lyricist Lee Goldsmith and librettist Ernest Kinoy stalled on its way to Broadway in the 1980s, but later found award-winning success in a Miami staging. Of various drafts of the show, the one being presented Nov. 21-24 on showbiz legend Charlie Chaplin's home turf — England — is the closest to the authors' original vision, the composer told Playbill.com.
"This trans-Atlantic workshop has given us a chance to begin exploring the original version of the musical where the link between Chaplin and the commedia tradition is a bolder part of the story," composer Anderson, who has been in residence in Guildford for rehearsals, said.
He added, "It's astonishing to witness this talented group of young singing actors at The Guildford School of Acting take on this challenging musical. Along with the premiere of several never performed songs and scenes, there is a fresh magic to the show which is charged with dance, mystery and a powerful youthful energy. After 26 years, it feels like the show has come home for a new start."
The Guildford audience is expected to include industry professionals looking to see if Chaplin might have a wider life in the U.K.
Guest director Martin Connor is staging the production, which features third-year students of the respected Guildford School of Acting (GSA), which has a lauded musical theatre program. Performances play Guildford's Bellairs Playhouse. The Guildford conservatoire production's musical director is Niall Bailey; choreographer is Bill Deamer; Colin Mayes designs; David Mitchell is lighting designer. Connor brought Chaplin to the school.
The musical boasts British Music Hall-style numbers (all original) to tell the rise of Chaplin from Victorian London orphan to 20th-century international actor-director.
According to the Guildford announcement, "His life was theatre. Born into the shabby Musical Halls of London, Chaplin's life took him from the workhouse to Hollywood. Follow the story of the funniest man in the world and see him evolve into the smart, warm-hearted underdog that would become his trademark."
Anderson pointed out that Chaplin (subtitled A Memory as Entertainment) avoids "his fame and politics and tells the story of young, searching Chaplin."
The Guildford Chaplin company includes Ian Norgate as The Little Fella (what Charlie is called), Alexandra Grierson, Dawn Seivewright, Jess Bray, Mary Cormack, Sarah Nightingale, Sophie Boyne, Suzanne McLean, Gary Horner, James Sygrove, Joel Montague, Matthew Brown, Nic Gibney, Ross Witherden, Ewan Vickery and Sam Rhodes.
After being developed for Broadway in the early 1980s, with Joe Layton attached as director and Tony Walton lined up as designer, funding for the show fell through. The work would re-emerge in 1993 in Miami, where a resident staging won the prestigious Carbonell Award as Best New Work. A subsequent further revision played Sarasota, FL, but strayed from the authors' original conceit, which drenches it in a British sensibility, with references to Chaplin being part of the continuum of theatre history figures.
This production's director, Martin Connor, began his directing experience with the Actors' Company and has directed numerous productions of musicals and plays in the West End, on tour in the U.K., U.S. and Japan.
For more information about the property, visit www.chaplinthemusical.com. Composer Anderson and lyricist Goldsmith also penned the musical Shine!, with book by Richard Seff.
For more information about Guildford School productions, in Guildford, Surrey, 30 miles outside of London, visit www.conservatoire.org.
Past Guildford students include the international musical theatre star Michael Ball, currently starring in Hairspray; Diane Pilkington, a Glinda in Wicked in London's West End; the twice Oscar nominated actress Brenda Blethyn; international film and stage actor Bill Nighy; and television presenter Gaby Roslyn.
The musical theatre course at GSA is headed by Gerry Tebbutt, performer, director and choreographer who has over 300 stage productions to his credit.