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Review Roundup: CHAPLIN Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!

Broadway’s new musical CHAPLIN opened tonight, September 10 at the Barrymore Theatre. CHAPLIN is a new musical depicting the life of film icon Charlie Chaplin, with music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis and book by Thomas Meehan and Christopher Curtis. Warren Carlyle directs and choreographs the production.

CHAPLIN stars Rob McClure in the title role, and also features Jim Borstelmann (Alf Reeves), Jenn Colella (Hedda Hopper), Erin Mackey (Oona O’Neill), Michael McCormick (Sennett, McGranery, Emcee), Christiane Noll (Hannah Chaplin), Zachary Unger (Young Charlie, Jackie) and Wayne Alan Wilcox (Sydney Chaplin).

Did the show charm the critics? Let's find out...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: More broadly, though, this sour-smell-of-success story…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….The lens through which we see most of “Chaplin,” though, is blurred, as if with Vaseline. In his 1964 autobiography Chaplin made it clear that he had little use for most interpretations of his psyche, whether high-brow (via Freud or W. Somerset Maugham) or low (the gutter press and fan magazines). So I shudder to think what he might have made of the psychiatrist’s couch he’s been plopped on for “Chaplin: The Musical.”

Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press: The new musical "Chaplin" opens with the sight of the Little Tramp balanced on a tightrope high above the stage. It's a fitting metaphor for the show itself – a wobbly, high stakes attempt to avoid gravity. Guess what happens? Gravity wins…Rob McClure in the title role certainly deserves more than this to work with. 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. But save for one sublime scene in which the various inspirations behind Chaplin's decision to embody the Little Tramp is revealed, the show McClure leads is equal parts flat, overwrought and tiresome.

Steven Suskin, Variety: The most treacherous part of producing a biomusical about an iconic performer is finding an actor who can convincingly handle the role. The producers of "Chaplin" -- this fall's first Broadway offering -- have passed that difficult test, with relative newcomer Rob McClure proving a small wonder as the Little Tramp. But they have come up all thumbs, alas, in the writing and staging departments. In the hands of composer-lyricist Chris Curtis (who has penned theme songs for the Discovery Channel) and Curtis' co-librettist Tom Meehan ("Annie," "The Producers"), Chaplin's remarkable life veers into cliche.

Matt Windman, AM New York: You've probably seen worse musicals than "Chaplin," a forgettable biography of Charlie Chaplin. But how did this slow-paced and sentimental musical, which has the taste of a cup of coffee mixed with a dozen packets of sugar, make it to Broadway? The songs of Christopher Curtis - who has previously written theme songs for the Discovery Channel - are occasionally tuneful but mostly tacky. Still, they are far better than the show's melodramatic and strange book…Even if "Chaplin" were a better crafted musical, it would still remain a mostly futile enterprise. Why see an impersonation of Chaplin instead of just watching Chaplin himself in his best films?

Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune: Despite an enigmatic, career-making performance from Rob McClure in the title role, an earnest turn from Wayne Alan Wilcox as his tag-along brother Sydney, and an engaging performance from Erin Mackey as Chaplin's late-in-life love Oona, "Chaplin" is a musical where the material is just not up to the complexity of its enigmatic subject. It's impossible to believe that the creator of such masterpieces as "Modern Times" and "The Gold Rush" would express himself in such prosaic, cliched terms. He may not have spoken in his works, but he surely was thinking up a storm with every twitch of his Tramp's eyebrows.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: 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. In the title role, that of film legend Charlie Chaplin, McClure begins the show literally walking a high wire. For more than two hours, he is the dominant figure onstage, aging from a teenager to an octogenarian while alternately channeling his character's unique genius for physical comedy and singing his guts out. As if that's not enough, Chaplin's leading man must also traverse a book...with enough mawkish melodrama to fuel a dozen silent-film parodies. It's this last aspect that ultimately sinks what might have been an exciting new work, and still manages to be, in substantial chunks, an entertaining one.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News:  In the musical “Chaplin,” sets and costumes come in black and white. Unfortunately, so does the storytelling in this cut-and-dried bio about the complicated silent-film legend Charlie Chaplin.

Jeremy Gerard, Bloomberg News: There’s a nice scene early on, after Charlie has arrived in Hollywood to become a member of Mack Sennett’s “Keystone” company. It’s the moment when inspiration strikes as the scared young immigrant assembles the elements that will transform him into the Little Tramp. Sennett (Michael McCormick) barks, “Do that walk again!” But “Chaplin” -- whose derivative songs are by Christopher Curtis, the inert book by Curtis and Broadway veteran Thomas Meehan -- has little else to recommend it. Curtis’s talents do not include pastiche; you’d never know the period here extends from pre-WWI to the 1970s. Nor would you get any understanding of the crucial role that silence plays in silent movies.

Linda Winer, Newsday: Well, hello, Rob McClure. Welcome to the show that's going to make you a Broadway star. It's hard to guess how long the musical -- with its excellent stagecraft, but a badly lopsided book and a banal score -- will be around. Whatever the problems of the material, however, this is a performance that lasts.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: It’s not a great sign when you leave a musical thinking more about the visuals than the songs — which is exactly what happens at Broadway’s new “Chaplin.”

Howard Shapiro, The Philadelphia Inquirer: In the new musical Chaplin, which is every bit as entertaining as Charlie Chaplin himself, Rob McClure portrays the film genius with an irresistible sweetness, like candy you can't - and don't want to - stop eating…Director-choreographer Warren Carlyle gives the musical some inspired touches, not least of which is the scenes of movie-making, which play out while the real film flashes in the background. Carlyle also lets McClure take over - but makes sure the actor's Chaplin is far more nuanced than just little-tramp screen imitations. In the end, the compact, sparkling McClure – like Chaplin – makes you believe he can perform just about anything and command an ovation for it.

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: "Chaplin," the bio-musical that opened Monday night at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is a mixture of the imaginative and the timeworn. The good things in it begin with Rob McClure’s deft performance in the title role — at times presented on film, in the style of a vintage movie.

Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly: Even if you can get over the oddity of a Broadway musical about a silent movie actor, it's hard to comprehend the biggest sin of omission in Chaplin: the absence of the late star's signature song, 'Smile' (originally the instrumental theme to Modern Times). It would be like telling the Bob Hope story without securing rights to 'Thanks for the Memories.' Even without 'Smile,' though, this musical about the life and times of Charlie Chaplin is a curiously flat affair…Rob McClure proves to be a gifted physical comedian and mimic in the title role (though his singing voice is not as strong as a traditional Broadway leading man's)…but under the direction of Warren Carlyle (who also did the uninspired choreography), the production only manages to shuffle-step along its very conventional, two-dimensional path.

David Cote, Time Out NYCharles Chaplin had an amazing first act—a rags-to-riches tale of artistic triumph—and a crummy second one—personal scandal, political exile, and after The Great Dictator, a string of mediocre talkies. Such extremes don’t apply to the spunky, hopeful biomusical Chaplin, but after we see the origin of those iconic silent comedies featuring a bowler-hatted, square-mustachioed clown, the material does shuffle downhill. However, when this generally well-executed and likable piece works (for its first hour), there’s a surprising rush of wonder, excitement and childlike delight.

Scott Brow, NY Magazine: Chaplin seems to be dragging some ghostly vestiges of its road self. (Under another title, Limelight, it underwhelmed at La Jolla Playhouse.) The first act relies heavily on a creaky film conceit. (We’re supposed to be on a bare soundstage, watching Chaplin’s film of his own life — though the only meaningful sign of this is a recurring slate boy, calling out scene changes.) This frame feels entirely unnecessary; worse, it means the actors have to wear unevenly applied “silent-film” greasepaint.

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