Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The King Returns to New York

In 1957, Charlie Chaplin released "A King in New York," his first film since leaving the U.S. in 1953, and the last time he would take a starring role. I'm happy to say that Chaplin is back in New York, in more ways than one.

First, and most significantly, is the opening of "Chaplin: The Musical," at the Barrymore Theatre on W. 47th Street. The show begins previews on Tuesday, August 21st (3 days after my birthday). Opening Night is set for Wednesday, Sept. 12th. There's been a lot of enthusiasm generated by this show, and a lot of information and behind-the-scenes videos on the internet. You can start here for info on The Musical

Rob McClure
The director, production crew, and cast have gone to great lengths to faithfully recreate the life and genius of Chaplin, his iconic scenes, all surrounded by a marvelous musical score and production numbers. Among the main players in Chaplin's life who are represented: Alf Reeves, Hedda Hopper, Oona O'Neill, Mack Sennett, Hannah Chaplin (Charlie's mum), Jackie Coogan (The Kid), and Sydney Chaplin. You can check out the Musical website to fully appreciate the credentials of the actors in these roles. The incredibly talented Rob McClure stars as Charlie. Rob is no stranger to Broadway, with an impressive resume.

Here's what I find so appropriate about this New York location. Chaplin was discovered by Mack Sennett in 1912. Chaplin, who was traveling the U.S. with Fred Karno's company, "A Night in an English Music Hall" was playing at the American Theatre on 42nd Street and 8th Avenue. Mack Sennett was there with his girlfriend, Mabel Normand. Mack was so taken by Chaplin's comic ability and potential for his Keystone Film Company, that he wired Alf Reeves, the manager: "Is there a man named Chaffin in your company or something like that. If so will he communicate with....." So Charlie heads for L.A., starts making movies for Mack for $150 a week, and turns out 35 shorts for him in 1914, before moving on to Essanay Films.

That's one version of the "discovery" story. There are others, but I like this one best. It includes Mack, it takes place in New York, and it's a dramatic telling of the beginning of the legend. 

So here we are, one hundred years later and 5 blocks away, for "Chaplin: The Musical." 

But we aren't finished yet. Today (Wednesday 8/15), just 3 days before my birthday (did I already mention this?), The Today Show on NBC presented a beautifully constructed piece on "The Kid" and re-creating a famous scene with Natalie Morales and her son, Luke. The segment shows where Chaplin worked, insight into his character, and includes interviews with daughter Geraldine, author Jeffrey Vance, and even Jackie Coogan's grandson. The Today Show salutes Chaplin & "The Kid"

One final note: "A King in New York" was released on Sept. 12, 1957. The same day that "Chaplin: The Musical" opens. Who says there aren't forces beyond our understanding at work in the universe. Especially when it comes to Charlie Chaplin.

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