April 4, 2019

A World-Class Experience: The Genius of Charlie Chaplin Accompanied by a Live Score at The Tull Family Theater

Three Charlie Chaplin shorts will be accompanied by live music in a special screening at The Tull Family Theater on Sunday, April 14, at noon.

The Charlie Chaplin Silent Picture Show Presented by Tom Roberts with Mary Beth Malek melds classic Charlie Chaplin silent films with an accompanying live score. The production came to life as period-style pianist Tom Roberts was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra to compose musical scores for Charlie Chaplin films.  Roberts and Malek, principal clarinetist with the Pittsburgh Opera and Ballet orchestras, will bring this show to The Tull Family Theater, performing live during Chaplin’s The Rink, The Pawn Shop and the first cinematic appearance of the beloved Little Tramp, Kid Auto Races at Venice California.

 Why, a century after motion pictures gained sound, would patrons be interested in watching a retro performance of silent pictures with live music?

First of all, there’s Charlie Chaplin as the charming Little Tramp.

“Chaplin’s Little Tramp character is so much an embodiment of the Everyman that people of all races, sexes and ages can relate to him,” says Lisa Stein Haven, English professor and Chaplin expert at Ohio University-Zanesville, who knows that two young boys in Afghanistan and Uganda are making their livings as Chaplin impersonators.

Chaplin’s work, Haven says, is “foundational to any and all of the comedy we enjoy today.”

The silent films, which transcend language barriers, also share timeless human conditions that has seen can appeal to very disparate groups, each finding a different facet of Chaplin’s work to enjoy. Roberts also has witnessed these different folks involved in conversation after a performance. Because cinema can involve visual, emotional and auditory senses, he says, music choreographed to the dialogue-free films heightens and shapes the filmgoers’ experiences.

Why add a musical performance? Music choreographed to the dialogue-free films heightens and shapes the filmgoers’ experiences, explains Roberts.

One of the world’s leading advocates and performers for the complex, fast-moving Harlem stride piano style, Roberts has performed with Wynton Marsalis and The Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, and twice each at Carnegie Hall and the International Stride Piano Summit in Switzerland. He’s toured with Leon Redbone and has been heard on the Boardwalk Empire soundtrack, NPR and The Tonight Show.

Roberts’ experience shows that musical cues are critical for cinematic audiences—even more so when no conversation fills the auditory space. “It is a huge responsibility to write music for these films because a person experiencing this for the first time will either be mesmerized or jaded, and with the latter, they will never seek out another silent film,” Roberts declares.  “So for this reason, I respect the sanctity of silent cinema”—even when it requires 17 hours of work for every 30 seconds of footage.

For Roberts, the total impact is worth the meticulous effort. “I have been stopped on the street by 20somethings who have told me that they experienced my Chaplin films and it was the single most magical experience in their lives.”

Why? Chaplin is nothing short of “a cinematic genius,” says the International Movie Database. “One of the greatest filmmakers in the history of American cinema, whose movies have even gained notoriety as time progresses.”

“The deeper the truth in a creative work,” wrote Chaplin in manuscript notes, “the longer it will live.”

And why at The Tull Family Theater? “This is one more example of how the widely varied programming at this nonprofit cinema makes cultural events accessible and supports our mission to strengthen cultural, educational and entertainment experiences for people living outside the metro core,” says Carolina Thor, executive director of The Tull Family Theater.

Info Basics

What: Charlie Chaplin Silent Picture Show Presented by Tom Roberts with Mary Beth Malek


When: Sunday, April 14, noon

Where: The Tull Family Theater, 418 Walnut St., Sewickley

Admission: $15

Tickets: www.thetullfamilytheater.org


The Tull Family Theater, a 501(c) (3) Pennsylvania nonprofit, is a film-based arts organization created to strengthen cultural, educational and entertainment experiences in the region northwest of Pittsburgh. Supported by private, public, corporate and foundation funding, the theater counts among its donors Allegheny Regional Asset District, Huntington Bank, Esmark and the Bouchard Family, more than 700 individuals and its patrons. Their support sustains and expands programming at this independent cinema in Sewickley offering two screens and an event/performance space.

Contact: Karen Ferrick-Roman, Karen@thetullfamilytheater.org, Cell 412.671.1456