Thursday, August 30, 2012

Charlie & Rob: Two Weeks and Counting

One week ago, previews began for "Chaplin: The Musical." The show opens in two weeks, on Sept. 10. This is a big event - for fans of Chaplin and for new Broadway shows. So I think it's only fitting to turn this post into a "Time with Charlie Chaplin and Rob McClure."

McClure, as I'm sure you know, plays the lead. As he did when the show first appeared at the La Jolla Playhouse as "Limelight" two years ago. The show was a big hit there and, given the talent involved with the current production, will only be better. Some highly dedicated and talented people with impressive credentials are involved.

But back to Rob. To tell you the truth, I admire him but don't envy him. Chaplin's moves and expressions are so well known, I'm sure the audience will be comparing him to what they've seen of The Little Tramp on the screen. For instance, Rob spent countless hours perfecting one of Charlie's most famous bits: the dance of the bread rolls, from "The Gold Rush." Rob called it "extremely difficult in its simplicity." He's right. And I believe that's what made so many of Chaplin's scenes works of art. Here's a link to McClure and director Warren Carlyle talking about that dance and what it took to bring it to the stage.  Rob talks about the famous Bread Roll Ballet

There have been shows on Broadway before based on famous people. But I doubt if there has been anyone more famous than Chaplin represented. Not only famous, but so familiar for his screen performances. Capturing that "essence" of Chaplin was more than just impersonation. It had to be true. I like what the director said about Rob: "He knows how to embody Chaplin."

Recently McClure talked about his three favorite Chaplin films. Two of them were somewhat expected: "City Lights" and "The Great Dictator." But the third one surprised me. It's one of my favorite shorts. Chaplin made it in 1916 for The Mutual Film Co. The title is "One AM" and it's a tour de force in a solo performance by Charlie (except for a short bit at the open with a cab driver played by Albert Austin). Here's a link to the three films. You'll get to see the complete "One AM" and the complete "City Lights." I'm not sure where the print of "City Lights" originated but, according to a logo and translations on the title cards, it looks as though it might be Russian.

I think the fact that Rob picked "One AM" says a lot about how he admires Chaplin's sense of movement, invention, and timing. If you've never seen this one, check it out.

Besides my interest in Chaplin the man and The Little Tramp, I am fascinated with shows that combine movies and stage, Hollywood and Broadway. From the videos I've seen promoting the musical, it appears they have accomplished this in an imaginative and entertaining way. Of course I won't know for sure until I see the show, which happens in a couple of weeks. But if it's as good as everything else I've seen, I know it will be done as Chaplin would have done it: To perfection.

I'll end with Chaplin's own words, in a 1967 interview with Richard Merryman.
"I care about my work. It's the best thing I do. If I could do something else better, I would do it. But I can't. And so this thing that I've got, whatever it is, whether it's creativeness or whatever it is, I care, I really care."

He could also be talking about the people involved in "Chaplin: The Musical."

Here's a link to more videos and information about the show:


  1. Dear Sir, I don't know how else to write to you. I found an 8mm reel copy of "The Reformer" in my deceased father's movie collection. I found it mentioned here but nowhere else. It's not listed on IMDB. It's not on YouTube. Where can I buy this on VHS to actually watch it? If my father bought it on reel then he must have liked it, so I want to see it. Thank you.

  2. Huh, the posted comment didn't include my name.

  3. I believe "The Reformer" was actually a name that Blackhawk put on it when they released it on 8mm. The film was an altered/edited version of a short film Chaplin made for Essanay in 1916, called "Police." It's available on DVD as part of the Chaplin Essanay collection. I don't know about VHS, but you might check eBay on it. Here's a link to an ad for the film /Users/gerrymandel/Desktop/mri5N6iC3Sco8uEVSkhDjaA.jpg