PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Sept. 8-14: Chaplin Opens, Giant Is Populated, Rebecca Is Threatened

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14 Sep 2012

Rob McClure as <i>Chaplin</i>
Rob McClure as Chaplin
Photo by Joan Marcus

The first Broadway opening of the fall season was Chaplin, the scrappy little musical that debuted at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2010 and stars the little-known Rob McClure as the Little Tramp. It showed itself to the Broadway Gods at the Barrymore Theatre, opening Sept. 10.

The critics' verdict was: McClure's good; the hackneyed stuff surrounding him, no so much.

"This sour-smell-of-success story," wrote the Times, "is steeped in a sense that Chaplin the person, as opposed to Chaplin the fabled silent comedian, has gone missing in action, devoured by a swarm of man-eating clichés." AP called the show "a wobbly, high stakes attempt to avoid gravity. Guess what happens? Gravity wins"; and "equal parts flat, overwrought and tiresome." Variety said, "In the hands of composer-lyricist Chris Curtis (who has penned theme songs for the Discovery Channel) and Curtis' co-librettist Tom Meehan, Chaplin's remarkable life veers into cliche." And the Daily News called the storytelling "cut-and-dried."

But McClure? Now there was something to like. "Rob McClure in the title role certainly deserves more than this to work with," stated the AP. "He has clearly put his heart and soul into playing Chaplin — he not only sings and acts with feeling, he also tightropes, roller-skates blindfolded, does a backflip without spilling any of his drink, and waddles with a cane like a man who has studied hours of flickering footage." Variety called him "a small wonder as the Little Tramp." And USA Today declared, "There are surely few harder-working men in show business right now than Rob McClure, the immensely likeable star of the new Broadway musical Chaplin."

This would all be good news if McClure was a marquee name. But he is not, and the days when overnight Broadway stars could sell a Broadway show are long gone. Sorry, Kid, these are Modern Times. (My editor sent out this Tweet this week: "If @RobMcClure doesn't get a Tony nomination for his sensational performance as @ChaplinBway, I will eat my shoe!" )


Rebecca star Jill Paice

Rebecca, the new musical based on the classic novel by Daphne du Maurier, is unluckier than the book's unfortunate heroine.

The show was supposed to have bowed last season, but was postponed in January 2012 due to incomplete capitalization. Producers didn't give up, but rescheduled it for this season. Now the show's start of rehearsals is delayed by two weeks due to the death of a key investor responsible for a $4.5 million investment pool in the production.

"Since the tragic and sudden death of a major investor in early August, we have been working with the representatives of the estate to complete the committed investment," said lead producers Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza. "We had been reassured that the commitment would be honored, and have tried day and night to finalize this matter, but as of yet have been unable to do so, which has left us no choice but to delay the start of rehearsals for Rebecca by two weeks."


Also unlucky this week was the Chicago launch of Unspeakable, a "dramatic fantasia" inspired by the life of legendary comic Richard Pryor. Again, the problem was cash flow. (Ain't that the problem all over, these days?) The show will not happen "due to major funding that did not come through," but a spring 2013 production is planned. Film actor Isaiah Washington was to star (not in the role of Pryor, though — that's James Murray Jackson, Jr.) in the eight-week run at the Royal George Theatre.


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