That rose is used somewhat soppily at first as an instrumental piece of the young Chaplin's life - his mom gives it to him as she's taken off to a mental hospital; she would spend the entire rest of her life in institutions. But the little rose eventually becomes a powerful part of the show's storytelling, in a script by Thomas Meehan, who also wrote the books for Hairspray, The Producers and Annie, which is about to be revived on Broadway. Meehan's co-writer is Broadway newcomer Christopher Curtis, whose graceful, pretty score is just right.
Graceful is one appropriate adjective for the mega-talented McClure, a Philadelphia-based actor who with this show becomes a major Broadway light. Philadelphia theatergoers will remember him two seasons back in his performance as Mozart in Walnut Street Theatre's Amadeus, and for his Barrymore-winning portrayal in the title role of Arden Theatre Company's award-sweeper, The Flea and the Professor. (He was the professor, not the flea.) New Yorkers know him as a puppeteer-actor from Avenue Q on Broadway and most recently, as Charley in the Encores! revival of Where's Charley?
McClure's revealing portrayal gives you Chaplin in his many facets: the young turn-of-century British vaudevillian, the novice silent-film comic player brought to Hollywood with substantial money by Mack Sennett (impressive Michael McCormick, who takes additional roles), the evolving big-shot who makes his brother (Wayne Alan Wilcox) his business manager, the womanizer, the genius storyteller, the demanding moviemaker, the adored celebrity, the man whose cocksure attitude overwhelmed his self-doubt and the Hitler-hater hounded by Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper (the excellent Jenn Colella) as a communist sympathizer.
For his politics, the Justice Department banned Chaplin from the United States while he traveled with his wife Oona - Eugene O'Neill's daughter - to his native Britain in 1952; she's played by Erin Mackey. Chaplin did not return until he accepted an honorary Oscar 20 years later. He lived in Switzerland until he died in 1977.
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.
Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, firstname.lastname@example.org, or #philastage on Twitter. Read his recent work at www.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.
Chaplin is at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 47th Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, New York.