Melbourne Cabaret Festival: Chaplin, A Life. In Concert

As the audience waited for David Pomeranz to appear in Chaplin: A Life. In Concert, a screen showing a photograph of a bowler hat and bamboo cane on a chair was an instant reminder of a unique talent that had entertained millions for generations.

David Pomeranz
David Pomeranz

When Charlie Chaplin devised the Tramp character, it was an action borne out of a desperate need to survive his childhood of extreme poverty and deprivation in Victorian England. By age six, he had appeared on stage in music halls with his parents, but what followed were periods in workhouses, begging in the streets and separation from his beloved mother who ended in an insane asylum. A tragic story, but a small part of Pomeranz’s riveting performance.

Using only his powerful voice, brilliant piano playing and his award-winning songs, Pomeranz instantly transforms himself into 25 different characters who shaped an exceptional life.

It was his mother who built into Chaplin the confidence to be proud of himself. “You have something no one can ever take away …  something that even kings can be in envy of.” “Do that funny walk for me, Charlie,” she would say, and it was his ability to act that finally led Chaplin, at age 22, to the opportunity to truly be himself on film.

He disagreed with the presentation of slapstick comedy and felt he needed a distinctive image to succeed.  As he added the bowler hat, the cane and the little square moustache to the baggy pants, the over-sized shoes and the tight little jacket, he came to realise that he had formed his own character. “He’s got to be someone a lot like me!”

It is Pomerantz’s ability to understand and depict the genius inside the clown that keeps the audience enthralled right to Chaplin’s 82nd year and his last performance to accept an Honorary Lifetime Achievement Academy Award in 1972 in Los Angeles, as nervous as his first appearance but for different reasons.

Chaplin’s feeling for humanity brought him endless trouble throughout his life, and not just with women. At the height of his fame in the 1940s, performers with any socialist leanings were being targeted as Communists, “Get me a Red!”,  and Chaplin’s concern for victims of Nazism put him in the spotlight, resulting in unfair banishment from the United States for 20 years.

To return for the award brought mixed feelings. “What should I say!” asked the man who had always expressed his feelings without words. “Will they love me or will they tear me apart.”

Chaplin received a standing ovation, as did David Pomeranz.  With great humility for a man who has had multi awards internationally himself, Pomeranz ended his tribute by telling the audience how important he felt it was to keep the memory of Chaplin, a work of art and master in his field, alive forever.

Melbourne people are privileged to have the opportunity to see this show.

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