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

By Robert Simonson
September 14, 2012

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!" )

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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."

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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.

Brian d'Arcy James

The last couple years, the Tony Awards ceremony has been held at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side. The switch in venue came in 2010, when the Tonys' longtime home Radio City Music Hall said the space was unavailable, having been rented to Cirque du Soleil's Zarkana. The shift was a disappointment at the time. But maybe people, including critics, were pleasantly surprised by the intimate feel of the Beacon, and how production numbers on its stage came off on television.

Despite that reaction, the Tonys apparently want to return to the cavernous Radio City. Negotiations, according to NY1, are currently underway for the 67th annual celebration of the Broadway theatre to once again be held at Radio City Music Hall. For the record, the Beacon and Radio City are not Broadway houses, but they are big!

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Kate Baldwin, Brian d'Arcy James and P.J. Griffith will star in the Public Theater engagement of the new Michael John LaChiusa-Sybille Pearson musical Giant, based on Edna Ferber's sweeping Texas-set novel about love, greed, power and race. The show will begin previews Oct. 26 Off-Broadway.

James will take on the role of wealthy Texas cattle man Bick (played by Rock Hudson in the famous film), opposite Baldwin as his wife Leslie (the Elizabeth Taylor role), and P.J. Griffith as the resentful upstart Jett. (Griffith is stepping into the shoes of James Dean, God help him.) Baldwin and Griffith originated their respective roles in the Dallas Theater Center production of Giant last winter. The musical is a co-production between DTC and the Public.

The cast is completed by Enrique Acevedo; Raul Aranas as Polo; Mary Bacon as Adarene and Mrs. Lyntonn; Miguel Cervantes as Angel, Jr. and Angel, Sr.; Natalie Cortez as Juana; Rocio Del Mar Valles as Analita; John Dossett as Bawley; Michael Halling as Lord Kafrey; Doreen Montalvo as Lupe; Allison Rogers as Heidi; Isabel Santiago; Martin Sola as Dimodeo; Matthew Stocke as Mike; Katie Thompson as Vashti; and William Youmans as Pinkie.

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Flop-collectors who feasted on the resuscitated corpse of Carrie during its Off-Broadway revival last season can fill up again this winter when The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective presents the rarely-seen Broadway disaster Moose Murders by Arthur Bicknell. The production, featuring a revised script (so it won't be the actual flop that 1983 audiences saw), will open Jan. 29, 2013, and run through Feb. 10 at The Connelly Theatre in the East Village.

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Finally, I guess it makes sense that London's National Theatre announced plans to open a New York office to oversee all of its North American activities. The British institution sends enough of its plays to Broadway to keep such an office busy.

The National is currently represented on Broadway by War Horse, which is also now on a North American tour. Its transfer of One Man, Two Guvnors, which closed there Sept. 2, recouped its investment. Other transfers have included The Pitmen Painters, The Seafarer, Coram Boy, Primo, The History Boys, The Pillowman, Democracy and Jumpers.

The office will be led by Tim Levy, who has previously worked at the National in London before moving to New York to work with the National's regular producing partner Bob Boyett on a number of productions. Certainly, Boyett will be one of the most frequent visitors to the new National office.