By Thom Geier
Updated September 11, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT
Joan Marcus

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. Composer-lyricist Christopher Curtis — whose Playbill bio credits him with ”the theme songs for the Discovery Channel (”A Wedding Story,” ”Travelers,” ”On the Inside”)” — has a written a series of pleasant but utterly forgettable songs with titles like ”What’cha Gonna Do?” and ”Where Are All the People?” And he’s strung them together with a by-the-numbers book (co-written with Thomas Meehan) that’s burdened with so many childhood flashbacks that the show never gets any forward momentum.

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). Christianne Noll is often moving as Chaplin’s prematurely addled (and asylum-committed) mother, while Jenn Colella sparks some real life into the second act as brassy, crusading gossipeuse Hedda Harper. But despite the cast’s best efforts, the material never really springs to life.

The physical production is elaborate and stunning, with sets by Beowulf Boritt, monochromatic costumes by Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz, and striking lighting by Ken Billington. 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. C+

(Tickets: or 800-432-7250)


  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Richard Attenborough