|The George M. Cohan Revue
Danny's Skylight Room - NYC
Review by John Kenrick
Jon Peterson stars as George M. Cohan
Musicals101 has an abiding interest in anything involving
George M. Cohan, the multi-talented dynamo who dominated Broadway in the
early 1900s. So you can understand how fascinated we are to see a new
revue of his ditties. But time has passed. A hundred years after their
creation, are Cohan's songs still stage worthy? The George M. Cohan
Revue proves the answer is a resounding yes! And we're not just
talking the old reliables that everyone whistles on patriotic occasions.
This charming show trots out dozens of Cohan rarities, and each and
every one is solid entertainment. What's amazing is that this newborn
show is so enjoyable in a simple showcase production.
Author Chip Deffaa has been working on a series of shows examining
Cohan's legacy. This latest incarnation uses just enough dialogue to
keep things in context, but otherwise lets Cohan songs speak for
themselves. And what a joy it is to hear them! This is the perfect
vehicle for a small and talented cast of eight, so summer theatres and
community groups take note -- nostalgic but fresh, The George M.
Cohan Revue might be the perfect thing for your next season.
Yes, we get to revel in "Mary," "Yankee Doodle
Dandy" and other familiar favorites. But we also get to meet the
likes of "Telephone Me Baby," "The American Ragtime"
and "Dancing My Worries Away." Without exception, these songs
still have genuine audience appeal, a quality that Cohan's father Jerry
used to call "the listen." Each one gets and keeps your
attention, often calling forth a smile or chuckle. And it is grand to
feel the genuine tingle that "Give My Regard to Broadway" and
"Your a Grand Old Flag" can set off.
Of course, none of this would work if the cast was not sympatico.
Rather than imitate Cohan's wry and sometimes grating performance style,
Jon Peterson makes the role his own -- a wise move, since
Peterson has enough personality and talent to fill most any stage. He's
a natural, the sort of actor you can't help falling for. Too many
performers think that "musical comedy" means smiling till it
visibly hurts, hitting audiences over the head with forced energy to win
applause. Peterson is the real thing, so relaxed and likeable that you
enjoy having opportunities to cheer him on. I can only hope we see
a lot more of this man on New York stages in years to come.
Broadway veterans Hal Blankenship and Joan Jaffe
sparkle as Cohan's vaudevillian parents, and Dawne Swearingen
shows a sweet soprano as sister Josie. Michael Townsend Wright as
the narrator and ensemble members Catherine Remmert and Drew
Emerson round out the company, all delivering the songs the Cohan
would have wanted -- clean, straightforward interpretations, with some
fine choral singing along the way. Tap choreography can be a tricky
business on a small cabaret stage, but Justin Boccito devised
some surprisingly effective numbers.
In its present incarnation, the libretto includes a narrator and
statements by the various characters. I'm not sure that both are
necessary -- these people can tell us all we need to know. Other than
this, Deffaa's script delivers a lot of information without turning into
a dry history lesson. It's fun all the way, and his direction kept
things moving smoothly from the get go.
In short, The George M. Cohan Revue is a musical lover's treat.
If you don't know much about Cohan, this is a great way to encounter his
songs and find out why he was such a theatrical legend.
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