CEDAR RAPIDS — At the height of his popularity, Charlie Chaplin didn’t win a “Charlie Chaplin Look-alike” contest.
Zane Hadish would.
The Cedar Rapids actor is stepping out of the shadows and into the limelight in a performance for the ages. Just 21, he’ll have many more roles, but this will be his touchstone. He doesn’t just “play” the slapstick comedy and tragedy of Chaplin’s life. He fully embodies the man once deemed “the most famous person on the planet.”
Tears, cheers and at least one “bravo” rang through Dows Fine Arts Theatre at the end of Thursday’s opening night performance by Revival Theatre Company. The run ends Sunday afternoon, so do yourself a favor and grab a ticket. You’ll learn so much by being immersed in a world fewer and fewer people remember.
And this is the only place on the planet you can see this new version right now, as writer/composer Christopher Curtis continues to tweak the show he and original writer, the late Thomas Meehan, took to Broadway in 2012. Curtis is aiming to take his rewrite to London in 2020, so it was now or never for Revival Theatre to mount the production. Thank goodness they chose now.
The local professional troupe has staged this “hot off the press” version in a most magnificent way. The music, the voices, the lighting, the projections, the sharp choreography and those opulent, shimmering costumes — every facet is astounding.
Loralee Songer, a Coe music professor, brings beauty and heartbreak to the role of Chaplin’s mother and muse, Hannah Chaplin.
Songer’s gorgeous mezzo voice wraps richly around “Look at All the People,” the opening number in which the mother ushers her young son through the streets of London, making up back stories for the people they see. Years later, a young adult Chaplin would weave elements of those people into his signature character. Building on the clothing, walk and demeanor from all walks of life, he creates the Little Tramp that transformed movies for actors and audiences in the 1920s and beyond.
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We see the mother through various stages of her decline into dementia, and Songer is nothing short of astonishing in the physicality this wrenching journey requires.
Likewise, Hadish brings a youthful exuberance to the slapstick antics and some jaw-dropping acrobatics as he slides from vaudeville to “flicker” film realms.
Chaplin’s black-and-white film world is captured in shades of black, white and gray. This palette dominates everything from the costumes to the scenery and the giant projection screen on which we see snippets of Chaplin’s movies and a newsreel, as well as the wallpaper and landscapes for the show’s various settings.
Costume designer Melanie Stoll’s vision is especially gorgeous, with flappers and showgirls dripping in beads, sequins and feathers, men in sharp tail coats and little boys in knickers.
Music director Cameron Sullenberger has not only ushered his singers through the various worlds of jazz, Tin Pan Alley and ballads in the spirit of the day, he has expertly shepherded Hadish through the intricacies and demands of expressing the greatest joys and deepest despair of Chaplin’s life. Singing through tears is no easy feat. Sullenberger also guides a top-notch 12-piece orchestra through an ambitious, demanding musical score.
Megan Helmers’ choreography is sharp, crisp and full of imagination and excellent execution, from balletic lifts to graceful waltzes, lowbrow dance halls to highbrow elegance. S. Benjamin Farrar’s evocative lighting and transforming set pieces spin into the show’s ever-changing environments.
Especially strong among the supporting characters are Mia Fryvecind Gimenez as the vile gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, whose sole mission seems to be ripping Chaplin to shreds, leading to his eventual fall from grace and European exile; Bryant Duffy, elegant in several entrepreneurial roles; Calvin Boman as Charlie’s ever-faithful, guiding light brother, Sydney; Stephanie Goff as Chaplin’s fourth and final wife, Oona O’Neill; and Greg Smith, in the evil role of Chaplin’s wretched father. When Gimenez and Goff unleash their powerhouse vocals, their passion and pathos explode through every corner of the arena.
• What: Revival Theatre Company: “Chaplin The Musical”
• Where: Dows Fine Arts Theatre, Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
• When: To Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday
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• Discounts: $25 students, veterans in person at ticket office, 119 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids