Chaplin, an American Musical First Crafted in the '80s, Will Get London Premiere by Guildhall

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05 Mar 2012

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin, a once-Broadway-bound musical that became an award-winning American regional-theatre title, will get its London debut by the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama this summer. Martin Connor (West End's Iolanthe) will direct and Bill Deamer (Top Hat, London's revised Love Never Dies) will choreograph the biographical musical about the early days — including the London life — of film star Charlie Chaplin.

Money problems scuttled the show on its way to Broadway in 1982. At that time, Tony Award winner Joe Layton (Barnum, George M!) was to direct and choreograph the show, which has a book by Ernest Kinoy (Bajour, Golden Rainbow, Emmy winner for "Roots"), lyrics by Lee Goldsmith (Shine!) and music by composer Roger Anderson (Shine!). Tony Walton was the original designer, Wally Harper was the original musical director.

The student-cast Guildhall production, running June 26-July 4 the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican Centre in London, will represent the creators' original vision for the show. The authors revised the show for a 1993 world premiere in Miami, where Chaplin won the South Florida Carbnonell Award as Best New Work, but they now return to their original script and score.

Anderson said that his and his collaborators' Chaplin was not intended to be a birth-to-death biographical drama about the artist whose silent films thrilled the world, but a kind of "origin story" that drew heavily on Chaplin's English Music Hall roots. Characters from the theatrical tradition of commedia dell'arte also haunt the world.

Director Connor is Guildhall's head of acting studies.



The Layton-directed Chaplin was first announced for Broadway in 1981, a time when Anthony Newley was prepping a separate (and more traditional) Chaplin musical for Broadway. Financing for the Layton production fell through the weekend before first rehearsal, composer Anderson said. Sets were being built, costumes were in production, actors had left other running Broadway shows to take jobs in Chaplin.

"There was nothing obvious or easy in Ernest Kinoy's remarkable script that explored Chaplin's evolution from birth in 1889 to the official appearance of The Tramp in 1915," Anderson told Playbill.com. "The challenge we were handed of creating a worthy theatre piece about the great comedian that explored his young life in the theatre was a task none of us took lightly. But the original version under the leadership of the late great Joe Layton and musical director Wally Harper was demanding in stagecraft and dance.

"Later, we [writers] worked with another Broadway director who asked to simplify and Americanize the show. That version was produced in Miami in the 1990s, but almost all of the elements of the commedia and dance were removed. In addition, the visual transformation to The Tramp was relocated, which was a notable mistake. The GSMD London premiere will be the first full production of the 1982 Broadway-bound show, with the original script and score fully restored, with new orchestrations by Steven Edis."

It's not rare for GSMD to stage new or lesser-known works in its disciplines of music, drama and opera, a spokesperson for the school said. The school will stage the European premiere of Ned Rorem's opera Our Town in June, for example.

Casting and full creative team for Chaplin will be announced.

"We are in good hands with Guildhall," Anderson said. "It's a fanciful and magical musical, and a young troupe of performers suits it well. I'm certain Joe Layton would be pleased — maybe Charlie as well."

This is not the first time this Chaplin has been seen on English soil. In November 2007 musical theatre students in Guildford, England, performed it as part of The Guildford School of Acting's season. Connor also directed that production, with Deamer as choreographer.

Here's how Guildhall School of Music & Drama characterizes Chaplin: "A new musical tracing Charlie Chaplin's struggle to break free of his humble beginnings and follow a quest for identity and fulfillment."

For ticket information, visit the Guildhall site.

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Unrelated to this resurrected Chaplin, separate producers announced that they will bring a musical called Becoming Chaplin to Broadway in 2012-13. The new musical features music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis and book by three-time Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray) and Christopher Curtis. Warren Carlyle (Finian’s Rainbow; Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway) will direct and choreograph the production. It previously played La Jolla Playhouse in 2010.

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Founded in 1880, the Guildhall School of Music & Drama is one of the U.K.'s major music conservatories and drama schools. The School moved to its current home in the Barbican Centre in 1977.

Martin Connor's first directing experience was with Sir Ian McKellen's Actor's Company, which he helped to run for four years. His many stage productions include major West End revivals of Gilbert & Sullivan's Iolanthe, Wonderful Town (starring Maureen Lipman) and Richard Harris' Stepping Out. He directed the London premiere of Alan Ayckbourn's Incidental Music (Orange Tree Theatre), also You Can't Take It With You and Rough Crossing (King's Head). His national tours include The Lady Vanishes and the 50th anniversary production of Sandy Wilson's The Boyfriend. His highly acclaimed production of Babes in Arms at the Guildhall School had a further incarnation at the Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre and the Chichester Festival Theatre. In the U.S. Conner directed Mister Cinders, Madame Sherry and the Gershwins' Oh, Kay! (both at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut) and Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland (Houston Grand Opera House). He was the director for the Vivian Ellis Musical Workshop (1985-2000) presented annually at the Palladium and Drury Lane Theatres.

Choreographer Deamer's credits include Top Hat (opening West End May 2012), the new version of Love Never Dies (Adelphi 2010-11), choreography and staging for Jekyll and Hyde (U.K. and European tour 2011), the new U.K. and European tour of Evita (2010-11), direction and staging for Maria Friedman Celebrates the Great British Song Book (Shaw), direction and choreography for Fly with the Stars (London Palladium), choreography for Rodgers and Hart's Babes in Arms (Chichester Festival Theatre), direction and choreography for Barbara Cook and Friends in Concert (London Coliseum), choreography for Lady Be Good (Regent's Park Open Air), direction and choreography for Follies in Concert (London Palladium), co-direction and choreography for The Boy Friend (Regent's Park Open Air, Olivier Award nomination for Best Choreographer), choreography for Anything Goes (U.K. tour) and more.

Orchestrator Steven Edis is a composer, arranger and musical director for film, TV and theatre. His theatre credits include the National, RSC, Old Vic, West End, Chichester and Regent's Park. He has been composer/musical supervisor for the famous Hackney Empire pantomimes since 1998. Most recently he composed music for The Lion in Winter at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.