Tapping a vein

The George M. Cohan Revue

Conceived, written and directed by Chip Deffaa
Music and lyrics by George M. Cohan (with revisions and a new song or two by Deffaa)
Equity showcase (closed)
Danny's Skylight Room
Review by Seth Bisen-Hersh

The George M. Cohan Revue is a history lesson as well as a revue. The life story of George M. Cohan, the famed songwriter who revolutionized American musical theatre, is told via narration and his songs. It was an entertaining evening, yet there was room for improvement.

Forty-eight songs are interspersed with narration about George M. Cohan. There were two narrators, Michael Townsend Wright and Jennifer Cohan Ross (Cohan's real-life great-granddaughter), but all of the characters narrate, as well. The show starts by talking about Cohan's parents, Jerry (Hal Blankenship) and Nellie (Joan Jaffe), who started performing together and eventually had a performing family with their two kids, Josie (Dawne Swearingen) and, of course, George M. (Jonny Peterson).

As time goes on, George M. takes over and moves the family to New York City, where they proceed to change the theatre scene. He grows up, gets married, and has kids, but always keeps an apartment in Times Square, minutes to all the Broadway theatres. The revue splices actual quotes from George and reviews from critics with the songs, most of which are from Cohan's trunk.

There is no arguing about Cohan's genius and prolificacy. The revue showcases his most famous repertoire, including Give My Regards to Broadway, I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy, You're a Grand Old Flag, and Over There. There were many obscure songs, the highlights being There's Only One Little Girl, All in the Wearing, and I'm Mighty Glad I'm Living and That's All.

The big standout in the cast was Peterson, as George M. Cohan. Peterson had spark and charisma, as well as a trained tenor tone and a terrific tapping ability. He was believable as a force to be reckoned with, and this show showcased his capabilities well. The standout on the creative side was Justin Boccitto's choreography. The intricate tapping sequences wowed the audience. (Sadly, in the cabaret setting, it was near-impossible to see the actual tapping feet.)

Overall, the show felt either too long or too short, depending on what the creator was going for. Wanting to be an extensive biography, the show should be extended and given an intermission with a more plot-driven book. As is, the historical details are interesting but get lost sometimes in a rush to squeeze in more songs. Or perhaps the show should be more contained and less digressive; 15 minutes or so could be trimmed off and the narrative streamlined to make it more of a cabaret-style act.

In any case, George M. Cohan changed musical theatre forever, and it is nice to know his memory is being kept alive.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Seth Bisen-Hersh