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limelight

oldgoat
Swing
joined:3/24/07
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limelight#1
Posted: 9/21/10 at 4:52pm
I saw "Limelight," the musical biography of Charlie Chaplin, at the La Jolla Playhouse on the 15th. Although a few days prior tp opening night, I believe the show was either locked or close to locked by that date. Like some of the critics, I thought the music was pleasant, but not spectacular. There was, in, my opinion, no show stopper that might bring you close to shouting "bravo". The performances were, without exception, outstanding, especially for Rob McClure as Charlie Chaplin. Ashley Brown's roles were far too small and her songs far too few. Matthew Scott, who played Charlie's brother Sydney, did not sing until the finale and then, only for a moment. Wow, what a voice! He should have had a song and also maybe a duet with Charlie. The show is good enough that it would not be a waste of money to attend, but it is not ready for Broadway - yet.
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joined:3/31/09
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limelight#2
Posted: 9/26/10 at 2:15am
I saw this show this afternoon and here are my thoughts:

Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin with music by Christopher Curtis, book by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan and directed by Michael Unger, will play at the Mandell Weiss Theatre and will run from September 7 - October 17, 2010. The show will star Robert McClure (Avenue Q) as Charlie Chaplin and Ashley Brown (Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast) as Oona. Other castmembers include LJ Benet (You Again, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) as "Young Sydney," Jenn Colella (Broadway's Urban Cowboy, The Times They Are A-Changin') as "Hedda Hopper," Eddie Korbich (Broadway's The Drowsy Chaperone, The Little Mermaid) as "Karno," Janet Metz (original company of Falsettoland, Playhouse's Harmony) as "Hannah," Brooke Sunny Moriber (Broadway's Follies, The Wild Party) as "Mildred," Ron Orbach (Broadway's Chicago, Laughter on the 23rd Floor) as "Mr. Chaplin," Roland Rusinek (Broadway's The Phantom of the Opera, A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden) as "Alf," Jake Schwenke (title role in Broadway's Billy Elliott) as "Young Charlie/Jackie," Matthew Scott (Broadway's Jersey Boys, A Catered Affair) as "Sydney" and William Youmans (Broadway's Wicked, Playhouse's Dracula the Musical, Randy Newman's Faust) as "Older Charlie." The ensemble includes Aaron Acosta, Courtney Corey, Matthew Patrick Davis, Justin Michael Duval, Sara Edwards, Ben Liebert, Alyssa Marie, Jennifer Noble, Kürt Norby, Carly Nykanen, Jessica Reiner-Harris and Kirsten Scott.



Sad to say that the one I bolded is the only one here not in the play. The program had him listed as Older Charlie, but there was an insert with the current songs and the cast and he was gone. At the after show discussion which I stayed for I found out why. He was one of three Charlies in the previews but after the last preview which was the dress rehearsal they decided to take him out. It was apparently too jarring for audience members who after seeing Robert McClure playing Charlie for the entire play and then in the final scene suddenly see someone new and much older with Oona White his 4th and last wife. Because of audience feedback Wicked's first Dillamond got the heave ho. Needless to say I wasn't happy. Since I had never seen him in the OBC I was excited to be able to see him in this but in the end it didn't happen.

Thoughts on the show:

Beautiful scenic design using panels to reveal scenes which seem to be used a lot in plays that I've seen recently. Especially loved the beginning in which there was a movie screen with a Charlie Chaplin title and then out of it stepped a young Charlie Chaplin. At the end of the play they reversed it with older Charlie stepping into the screen into one of his classic films.

Original music and lyrics by Christopher Curtis are good but nothing that made me leave the theatre humming any songs. I liked "Vaudeville Dream", "Just Another Day in Hollywood", but the two best were the "Tramp Shuffle" and "Where Are All the People" which brought the house down.

No big dance numbers except for the fun "Tramp Shuffle" which got huge applause. It's actually a clever re-creation of a famous look alike contest in which Charlie actually came in third.

Now for the cast of 22:

Rob McClure as Charlie was fabulous. He embodied Charlie Chaplin's famous Little Tramp from his sad-sack demeanor and playful orneriness to the shuffling gait as he swings his cane along with the customary Chaplin pratfalls. His singing was sensational especially when he delivered the powerful "Where Are All the People" in the 2nd act after his celebrity stature was destroyed by the hateful and despicable gossip columnist Hedda Hopper who used "Red Baiting" to destroy his career in America. For those of you too young to know what "Red Baiting" is or who she was Google her and find out how powerful the lies she printed were. It was a **** performance by McClure. I can't believe how far he's come from his first venture on Broadway in Avenue Q. Hopefully this vehicle will get him a second and bigger gig on Broadway.

Then there's Ashley Brown who was the main reason I went. If I had gone expecting her to be the big star I would have been very disappointed because she's not. She actually plays two roles. First is Charlie's mother at the beginning of the play who was a vaudeville entertainer who was committed to an insane asylum and then doesn't reappear until the end of the play when she is Charlie's fourth wife, Oona O'Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. She may not have been in it as much as I wanted but when she was she was exquisite especially in her duet with McClure, "What Only Love Can See", "The Music Hall" in which I giggled to myself when she pulled out and unfurled an umbrella and "Look At All the People" in which she hands Charlie a piece of theatrical advice that winds up serving him well. *** for Ashley

Supporting actors are really good and many play more than one or two characters. The best is definitely Jenn Colella as the vindictive gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. She appears briefly in act one which gives the supposed reason why she would hate Chaplin and then her evilness is unveiled in full force in Act 2. For me she was the star of the second act and brought the house down when she sang "When It All Falls Down". **** for Jenn

Matthew Scott was GR8 as Charlie's brother Sydney Chaplin. I kept looking at him and trying to figure out where I had seen him before. It wasn't until after the show that I discovered that he was in Sondheim on Sondheim which I had seen on my last trip to NYC. In that show he was really one of the lesser performers since they gave all the good songs to the older stars but in this show he was really good. I loved his singing voice which Sondheim on Sondheim didn't do justice to at all. His performance earned *** 1/2.

Several Wicked vets were in this show playing multiple parts in the ensemble: Courtney Corey from the LA production who also does lots of shows in SoCal and one of my favorite Boq's Ben Liebert. I can still see him as a rope walker in the show; nice guns he has! Bryan Perri, the music director for Wicked in Los Angeles and San Francisco is the MD for this show, but unfortunately he must have had the afternoon off since he wasn't the conductor for the show that I saw.

All in all, it was a great afternoon of good musical theatre and hopefully it will be lighting up a marquee on Broadway this season perhaps in the Spring! And from what that discussion leader intimated I can see it happening whether it's ready or not!

**1/2 out of 4 for me.
thenewmoon
Stand-by
joined:2/2/07
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limelight#2
Posted: 9/28/10 at 7:16pm
I actually drove to the La Jolla Playhouse for the very first time (2.5 hours!) to see this, on September 18. I brought along a friend who's a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin (as opposed to musical theatre). I think she enjoyed it more than I did! I think it started off well, with the musical hall/journey to Hollywood sequence, but Hedda Hopper's anti-Chaplin campaign in Act II seemed like too much of a tangent. I think Jenn Collela was really funny as Hedda, and her big number got the most applause, but it distracted from the biography as a whole (and the color-guard Soviet flag dance was absurd). Then it was back to a syrupy, belt-ballad-y conclusion with Oona and Old Charlie (Youmans was already cut when I saw it).
I really liked Jake Schwenke as Young Charlie (and other children who popped up throughout); he was the only good thing in the "Bye Bye Birdie" revival on Broadway last Fall so it was great to see him again. As mentioned, it's bizarre that Ashley Brown is even in this, since she has so little to do (and her playing of two women in Chaplin's life was totally stolen from the movie!) Robert McClure was an excellent mimic here, as he was in the national tour of "Avenue Q"; it wasn't his fault he had to sing such trite "Now it's my time to shine!" power ballads.
Even though the songs individually weren't memorable, I liked that the show seemed mostly sung-through. I rewatched the Robert Downey Jr. movie and it seems so turgid and talky in comparison. When I saw it, it ran just 2 hours, 25 minutes, with intermission-- and I saw "Leap of Faith" at the Ahmanson the next night, and it was a whole hour longer!
I really don't see this getting to Broadway, to be honest. It doesn't have big splashy numbers or big names or a really clever approach to the material. But it wasn't a bad way to pass an afternoon.
hanginoutca
Swing
joined:10/12/10
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limelight#3
Posted: 10/27/10 at 10:59am
I loved Limelight saw it the last weekend and it was an amazing audince reaction. Loved the songs. Rob Mclure is unreal as Charlie!
hanginoutca
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limelight#4
Posted: 10/31/10 at 8:03pm
LIMELIGHT: THE STORY OF CHARLIE CHAPLIN
Grade-A score and star
San Diego Magazine
By Don Braunagel
Posted on Mon, Sep 20th, 2010
Last updated Tue, Sep 21st, 2010

Encapsulating Charlie Chaplin’s long and legend-making life into a two-act musical requires, of course, a tightly edited script and directing at breakneck speed. Those elements mark La Jolla Playhouse’s Limelight: the Story of Charlie Chaplin. But what elevates this musical bio, unlike most, is its ability to capture much of the poignancy of Chaplin’s story.

For that, credit chiefly two factors — Christopher Curtis’s superbly varied score and Robert McClure’s extraordinary portrayal of Chaplin. From his first appearance as the young Vaudeville comedian Chaplin, McClure inhabits his character, including rubber-legged imitations of the moves that made Chaplin’s Tramp the world’s most beloved star of silent films, plus making Chaplin one of the richest, most famous men of the early 20th century. McClure also boasts a strong, emotive singing voice, especially impressive in Curtis’s ballads. His is a star-making performance.

Curtis also penned the book, teaming with Thomas Meehan. It’s largely linear, with the first act covering Chaplin’s rise from dire poverty in London to fabulous Hollywood success, and the second half dealing with his descent into unpopularity, stemming from problems personal and political. The story is necessarily sketchy, so directors Warren Carlyle and Michael Unger (who left before the production opened) have kept the pace snappy. But Curtis and Meehan have retained enough highlights to efficiently traverse the peaks and valleys of Chaplin’s life. Naturally, much material, like his marriage(?) to Paulette Goddard, is omitted.

Mainly, there’s that powerful score. The songs aren’t just interludes, they advance the story and match the mood. “The Music Hall” and “Vaudeville Dream” have the flavor of those entertainments, and “The Life That You Wished For” carries Chaplin’s wistfulness at the cost of success.

In the first act, “Look at All the People” has Chaplin’s mother, a musical performer who first brought him on stage in her act, teaching him to observe the walks of passersby and to try to determine the story in their faces — skills that he obviously capitalized on. Then, in a clever second-act counterpoint, a Chaplin growing increasingly alone in the world sings “Where Are All the People.”

Chaplin’s notorious penchant for womanizing is depicted with a bouncy “Just Another Day in Hollywood” as he sings and dances among a bevy of “auditioning” women. His much-criticized predilection for marrying younger (read teen-aged) women is downplayed, like most of his reported faults — arrogance, an exasperating drive for perfection and a conceit that he carried more influence with the public than he did. So this is a sympathetic portrayal, with Chaplin — as in life — winding up happy with his last wife, Oona O’Neill.

Wisely, Ashley Brown has been cast as both Chaplin’s mother, Hannah, and wife Oona. Outstanding as both, she represents the arc of his life, from the unhappiness of being separated from his mentally ill mother to the joy of a lasting and loving marriage.

The large cast came through as needed, with the best support coming from Ron Orbach as a blustering Mack Sennett and nefarious attorney general, along with Matthew Scott as Charlie’s loving but oft-frustrated half-brother/business manager, Sydney. Jenn Colella, as gossipmonger Hedda Hopper, is properly hard, snide and vengeful.

Carlyle’s kinetic choreography frequently builds from the footwork in Chaplin routines. One highlight is the “Tramp Shuffle,” a delightful “Chaplin stroll contest," in which a dozen or so cast members, in Tramp garb, do a chorus line imitating the master.

To zip through the saga of Chaplin’s downfall and exile, the writers go to the old reliable newspaper montage. Intended or not, the headlines do reverberate in today’s world, with the accusatory epithet “communist” replaced with “terrorist.”

Alexander Dodge’s versatile set design, on a polished hardwood floor, allows for fluidity in rolling scenery and fast switches in locale, from music hall proscenium arch to the openness of Mack Sennett Studios. For intimate scenes, panels slide up, down, back and forth, shrinking the large stage area. Paul Gallo’s lighting scheme, complemented by Zachary Boroway’s silent-film projections, generally shuns brightness, favoring illuminated pools amid a dark background.

Jon Weston’s sound, like Douglas Besterman’s orchestrations are top-notch, while Linda Cho’s costumes are faithful to character and era.


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