Light It Up

By Chantal Gordon

(Published in the September 2010 issue)

Staging a musical-theater production about a long-dead, tortured movie genius with a penchant for meltdowns and womanizing would be maddening. And if said genius were known for making silent films, the project could make you scream.

Director Michael Unger and composer Christopher Curtis rose to the challenge-and even maintained their composure in the process. The result, Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin, premieres September 7 at the La Jolla Playhouse.

"It's not a biography," says Curtis, who composed the score and wrote the lyrics. "It's a take on [Chaplin's] life-how the elements and moments from his childhood are manifested in his life and his art."

A veteran of the Disney Animation Songwriter program, Curtis has performed with Stevie Wonder and has written music for TV and film. He studied avant-garde music at UCSD before heading to LA to be mentored by David Raksin, who orchestrated the music for Chaplin's 1936 masterpiece, Modern Times.

Close-lipped about the specifics of the musical, Curtis and Unger are keen to let the audience discover the thematic elements on their own.

"I think people will be surprised at the depth of [Chaplin's] genius," says

Unger, noting that Chaplin often derived inspiration for his films from his own impoverished childhood and anguished adulthood. "He knew what the world needed to see on-screen before they did. His skill and his talent were almost beyond human, and yet he had foibles and problems and issues like the rest of us."

Limelight: The Story of Charlie Chaplin
September 7 through October 17, at the La Jolla Playhouse
lajollaplayhouse.org

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