Shear Delight

The showiest, funniest, and most challenging part, however, belongs to George Contini as Tony Whitcomb, the salon owner, who plays his role to maximum comic effect. Contini is hilarious when he's camp and realistic when he's serious. While Shear Madness itself is an inspired show, Contini turns this production into a great one.

If tempus fugit during Shear Madness, time comes to a dead standstill during the two-hour- long first act of Chaplin, the world premiere of a weakly written musical about the life of the great comic. It's further proof that, in theater, good acting alone isn't sufficient. In this production, directed ably by David Spangler for the Shores Performing Arts Center, the large cast sings and dances extremely well, and in the lead, Wayne LeGette performs with considerable skill as the Little Tramp. Margot Moreland as his mentally unbalanced mother also does excellent work.

So it's truly too bad this cast wasn't placed in a more attractive vehicle instead of this flawed retelling of Chaplin's life, which relies on too much heavy pathos from the start and offers too little action. Endless scenes about Charlie's miserable childhood in London with his alcoholic father and impoverished mother are made even less entertaining by pedestrian melodies that play on for about three verses too long. This deadly combination serves to bury almost the entire first act in dramatic mud. Things only get rolling at the end of that first half, and even though the second act does pick up, it's hard to justify the long wait.

Since this is a work in progress, there's always hope. At the very least, the authors should study The Who's Tommy, even with its flaws, to see how the opening exposition about Tommy's early years is handled with swift, built-in excitement. In the case of these playwrights, they would be far more effective by giving us Chaplin's background in a few short scenes and then focusing the show around the subject at hand: the master himself.

While watching Shear Madness, I rarely had a chance to catch my breath as the jokes and the action raced along. During Chaplin, my thoughts strayed back to my last holiday in Fort Myers, the calls I had to make, the bills I needed to pay -- and I still had enough leeway to sketch out an idea for a novel.

To make a script work well on stage, it not only has to be good, it needs to be good from the beginning. Lose an audience in the first twenty minutes and they're lost forever. Authors should take a tip from Shakespeare, who opened Hamlet with the arrival of a ghost. There was no Hello, how are you? dialogue. Just action. If time was so precious in his century, the cost of it certainly hasn't gone down today.

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