Not just approve of it, but also believe it to be the world's greatest musical, since he would believe it to be a musical about the world's greatest movie star.
Chaplin was the Little Tramp who got the Big Head. But it was forgivable, because he actually was the world's greatest movie star. And happily, by the end of his life he had reduced his head enough to publicly act as if he wasn't, even if he still thought he was.
It took a long time to get a musical based on Chaplin's life to Broadway. It took a long time to get a musical based on Shaw's "Pygmalion" to Broadway. That musical was "My Fair Lady," and it became the longest-running musical. "Chaplin" isn't "My Fair Lady," and it probably won't.
Still, it's not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. It's a pleasant show with pleasant music about a recurrently unpleasant life. It follows Charlie from his bleak boyhood, which, early on, he sums up with the line: "Dad died drunk, Mom went crazy, so maybe I should go into the movies!"
"Pygmalion" was so tough to convert that even Rodgers and Hammerstein gave up. Others have made Chaplin musicals, but none made it to New York. This one must be the best yet, considering that it's here, but it enjoyed no help from Rodgers and Hammerstein, let alone from Lerner and Loewe.
It does enjoy a lovely cast, led by Rob McClure, who has Chaplin nailed both as the Little Tramp and as Chaplin. It also enjoys a lovely design, suffused with black and white, which is, of course, the way most of us have come to picture Chaplin.
And it does enjoy nice songs. But you won't go out humming them. They work well in the show. Then they stay there.
The lack of memorable music is frustrating, since this is, after all, a musical. The lack of Tramp scenes is also frustrating, since this is, after all, "Chaplin." McClure is enchanting when he does the enormously popular character, but he doesn't do much of him. This is not "Little Tramp the Musical."
In the end, that could be the biggest drawback. Chaplin's wasn't a musical-comedy life. Parental alcoholism and mental illness were just the overture. His later years were afflicted with — besides the Big Head — bad marriages, governmental harassment, and exile. Everybody sing!
The show's best number is itself sinister. It's "All Falls Down," sung by Jenn Colella as the sinister gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. Hedda sings gaily of destroying Chaplin because he didn't grant her an interview.
This is insulting to a former newspaperman like me.
Maybe that's the best reason to see the show.
Hats off to "Chaplin," at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, in New York City.