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A CurtainUp Review
George M. Cohan Tonight!

By Elyse Sommer

Give my regards to Broadway,
Remember me to Herald Square.
Tell all the gang at Forty-second Street
That I will soon be there
Whisper of how I'm yearning To mingle with the old-time throng;
Give my regards to old Broadway And say that I'll be there, e'er long.

--- lyric from one of George M. Cohan's most enduring tunes.

 Jon Peterson as George M. Cohan
Jon Peterson as George M. Cohan (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
As a rule, solo shows aren't my favorite thing. But rules are meant to be broken and with George M. Cohan Tonight Chip Deffaa and Jon Peterson have come up with a real rule breaker.

It's not that there haven't been other musical biographies of the showman whose cradle was a backstage trunk, who published songs by the time he was sixteen and who rescued Broadway from its reliance on European operettas with the first book musical, Little Johnny Jones. The 1942 James Cagney biopic, Yankee Doodle Dandy and the 1968 George M! with Joel Grey are the ones most likely to come to mind.

Deffaa, whose admiration for Cohan dates back to when he saw the Cagney flick at age nine (the same age that Cohan became part of his family's vaudeville act), has himself written shows about the man "who owned Broadway" The latest pared down version that's been filling every seat at the Irish Rep seems to be the crème de la crème of these homages. The biographical narrative, is interspersed with Cohan's music that still soars thanks to Peterson's triple home run performance. It's a small jewel that sparkles without fancy setting or support players.

While skimming over many details about Cohan's life (especially the warts), there's enough pertinent detail packed into the script to acquaint or reacquaint viewers with this quintessential showman's can-do story. Cohan's journey from his vaudeville circuit days to Broadway is a true superstar saga. He and his partner Sam Harris produced some fifty shows and controlled seven theaters. But what really makes this saga take wing is the music -- over thirty songs -- and the razzle dazzle music man who makes the rarities as well as the best-known ones tickle the viewers' ears.

Jon Peterson doesn't look any more like Cohan than Cagney and Joel Grey did, but he embodies the man's brashness and enthusiasm with relaxed charm. As for his singing and dancing (choreographed by him) -- all I can say is Wow! His buck-and-wing routines leave you breathless with admiration, and are energetic enough so that even the tireless Peterson occasionally gets a bit winded as he segues into his narrator's role. If the narrative bogs down a bit during some of the lesser known songs, the show regains its pizzazz when Cohan realizes his determination to be a Broadway success and we hear Peterson's terrific renditions of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There."

Deffaa's script also uses "Life's a Funny Proposition" to let Peterson's Cohan ruminate on his life which, for all the money and honors (He was the first performer ever to be awarded a Congressioal Medal) had its dark and heart-wrenching side. James Morgan has designed a suitable trunk filled set with Sterling Price-McKinney and his excellent combo hidden in back of a scrim on which an image of the real George M. Cohan is projected.

After seeing George M. Cohan Tonight you'll want to tip your hat to that satue of Cohan in Times Square.

A footnote: The actress who played Cohan's beloved sister Josie in the Jimmy Cagney movie was Cagney's own sister Jeanne and the voice you hear welcoming you to the Irish Rep and asking you to turn off your cell phone is that of Jennie Cohan Ross, George M. Cohan's great granddaughter.

Written, arranged, and directed by Chip Deffaa
Music & Lyrics by George M. Cohan, with additional music material by Deffa
Star & Choroeographer: Jon Peterson
.Musical Direction by Sterling Price-McKinney
Additional arrantements: Sterling Price-McKinney , D. J. Bradley & Bruce Hempel
Set Design: James Morgan, costume design by and lighting design by
Costume Design: David Toser,
Lighting Design: Mary Jo Dondlinger.
Running time: 95 minutes without intermission
The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd, (212) 727-2737
From 3/03/06 to 4/23/06--Extended to 5/14; opening 3/09/06
Tuesday to Saturday at 8 PM; Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets: 50 and $45
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 3/15 matinee performance

Musical Numbers
  • Hello, Broadway! / Give My Regards To Broadway -- (George M. Cohan)
  • The Man Who Owns Broadway -- (George M Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • Night Time -- (George M. Cohan)
  • Musical Moon -- (George M. Cohan, With Additional Lyrics By Chip Deffaa)
  • Ireland: My Land Of Dreams --(George M. Cohan)
  • I'm Saving Up To Buy A Home For Mother --(George M. Cohan)
  • Josephine / Oh, You Wonderful Girl --(George M. Cohan)
  • The Dancing Master -- (Jerry Cohen)
  • Until My Luck Comes Rolling Along -- (George M. Cohan)
  • The Hinkey Dee -- (George M. Cohan)
  • Harrigan -- (George M. Cohan)
  • You Wont Do Any Business If You Haven't Got A Band -- (George M. Cohan With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • My Father Told Me --(Music By George M. Cohan, Lyrics By Chip Deffaa)
  • I Was Born In Virginia -- (George M. Cohan)
  • Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway -- (George M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • I'm Awfully Strong For You -- (George M. Cohan)
  • Oh! You Beautiful Girl / I Want The World To Know -- (George M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • Goodbye Flo -- (George M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune -- (George M. Cohan)
  • The Fatal Curse Of Drink -- (Chip Deffaa, Based On Traditional Material)
  • The Yankee Doodle Boy --(George M. Cohan)
  • Mary's A Grand Old Name -- (George M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • You're A Grand Old Flag -- (George M. Cohan)
  • Over There -- (George M. Cohan)Sweet Popularity/ I'm A Popular Man (Cenrge M. Cob.) Kcenrge M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • Drink With Me / Did Ya Ever Have One Of Those Days -- (George M. Cohan with revisions By Chip Deffaa)
  • I Love Everyone In The Wide Wide World / I'm True To Them All-- (George M. Cohan, With Revisions By Chip Deffa)
  • All-American Sweetheart -- (Music By George M. Cohan And Chip Deffaa, Lyrics By Chip Deffaaa)
  • Josephine (Reprise) -- (George M. Cohan)
  • I Won't Be An Actor No More --(Music And Title By George M. Cohan, Lyrics By Chip Deffa)
  • Life's A Funny Proposition -- (George M. Cohan)
  • All Aboard For Broadway / Give My Regards To Broadway-- (George M. Cohan, With Additional Lyrics By Chip Deffaa) (George M. Cohan, With Additional Lyrics By Chip Deffaa)
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©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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