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Meet “The Yankee Doodle Boy” himself in this upbeat one-man journey through the life, music, and artistry of this legendary entertainer. George M. Cohan Tonight! is a dazzling showcase that reveals the essence of the man, his music, and the fabulous era of show business he helped shape. With roots in vaudeville that would shape his life and career, Cohan means it when he says, “Give My Regards To Broadway,” having left an indelible mark on American theater. Featuring hit songs such as “Over There,” “Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway,” “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” and “All Aboard For Broadway,” this high-energy show is insightful and entertaining— a delightful salute to the man who almost single-handedly invented the American musical comedy.
No one in show business ever did quite so many different things quite so well as the dynamic George M. Cohan (1878-1942). The quintessential “self-made man,” he rose from poverty to become an outstanding entertainer, songwriter, playwright, director, and producer. He wrote or co-wrote more than 50 shows. He produced or co-produced more than 80 shows. He penned hundreds of irresistible songs, remaking the American songbook in the process. (And a century later, everyone stills knows such spirited Cohan numbers as “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Harrigan,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “Over There.”) The most popular musical-comedy man of his day, he made America— not Europe— the pace-setter for musical theater. He gave Broadway its beat, its pace, its snap. And he was the first member of his profession ever honored with a Congressional Medal. ASCAP award-winner Chip Deffaa’s acclaimed solo show George M. Cohan Tonight! brings back Cohan in all of his glory. Hailed by the New York Times as “brash, cocky, and endlessly euphoric,” George M. Cohan Tonight! has delighted audiences all across the U.S.— not to mention places like England, Scotland, Korea… There’s no better showcase to be found anywhere for a strong triple-threat singer/dancer/actor.
In the darkened theater, we first hear the taps of someone dancing; then a small spotlight catches the feet, then expands to reveal the entire song-and-dance man. It’s the ghost of George M. Cohan materializing. There’s no place he’d rather be than in a theater. In life, Cohan spent far more time in the theater than he ever spent at home.
He makes his entrance singing his anthems to the street he considered the greatest in the world: “Hello Broadway,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “The Man Who Owns Broadway.”
He recalls that his parents, Jerry and Nellie Cohan, were show people, originally billed as “The Irish Darlings”; they first carried him onstage within days of his birth in Providence, Rhode Island on the Fourth of July. His earliest memories were of his parents singing (“Night Time”). They added George and his sister Josie to the act as soon as they were old enough. The family crossed the country ten times; wherever they could find a variety theater, a hall, or a tent, they’d entertain (“Musical Moon”). Every week they’d be in a new city, with new audiences. The only constants in young Cohan’s life were his family. His father would sing him to sleep (“Ireland, My Land of Dreams”). He began writing songs at age four (“I’m Saving Up to Buy a Home for Mother”). His early songs were sometimes inspired by family members— such as “Josephine,” for his beloved sister— or by performers he admired, such as “Harrigan,” for Edward Harrigan (of the team of Harrigan & Hart). Sometimes he’d invent dance steps first, and create songs to fit the steps (“The Hinkey Dee”).
Cohan’s parents tried to put him in school while they took a theatrical troupe out “on the road” (“You Won’t Do Any Business if You Haven’t Got a Band”). But he was not happy in school, and within eight weeks he was back on tour with the family act. He helped his father write material. His father assured him that though they did not have much money, they were the richest people on earth because they were doing what they loved, and they had each other. George hoped he could spend his whole life in the show business (“My Father Told Me”). His passion, always, was to someday make Broadway. It amazed him that not all vaudevillians shared his passion; that some told him their dream was to simply settle down quietly some place, away from the pressures of the Big Time (“Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway”).
At 15, Cohan ran away with a gal he fell in love with (“Oh! You Beautiful Girl” / “I Want the World to Know”). His father hired a detective to bring him back, and put an end to the romance (“Goodbye Flo”). The father— to give his son more of an incentive to stay with the family— also put his son in charge of the family act. From then on, George wrote all of the family’s songs and sketches and handled all of the business. Within a few years, the Four Cohans were the best-known, highest-paid family act in vaudeville.
Cohan wanted to create shows for Broadway, but one Broadway producer after another rebuffed him, telling him that the best shows and music came from Europe— they always had come from Europe, and always would. Cohan did not buy that. He wasn’t interested in emulating European operettas; he had his own music to make (“I Want to Hear a Yankee Doodle Tune”). Nor did he care for the moralizing tearjerker songs that were so popular in that era (“The Fatal Curse of Drink”).
Finally, Cohan finds a young producing partner, Sam Harris, who believes that Cohan is the future of musical theater. With every dime they can scrape up, they bring Cohan to Broadway in a fresh, fast-moving, and thoroughly America musical he’s written, Little Johnny Jones. He sings/dances the rousing “Yankee Doodle Boy”— and Broadway will never again be the same. He follows with other hits. Because he is writing the books, music, and lyrics, and also directing, choreographing, and co-producing his shows, they are significantly more unified than any previous musicals. He introduces a faster pacing, too. Older theater critics are uneasy about his innovations. But perceptive younger critics— and the public— embrace Cohan wholeheartedly.
For years, Cohan’s touch is golden. His shows, his songs are enormous hits: “Mary,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” “Over There…” Everyone is cheering him, shouting his name, and he relishes every minute of it (“I Love Everyone in the Wide, Wide World,” “Drink with Me,” “Did You Ever Have One of those Days?”). Never one to waste time, the very day Cohan meets vaudevillian Ethel Levey, he writes her a long letter, outlining what their life together will be like (“All-American Sweetheart”). When the marriage fails, he just as enthusiastically and optimistically weds Agnes Nolan, who’d been a Cohan chorus girl.
Challenges, setbacks, reversals in his life pile on quickly, unexpectedly: the prolonged, bitter actors’ strike, the death of his sister (“No brother and sister were ever closer,” he said), and the death of his father (whom he greeted with a kiss any day they were together)… With the passing of his sister and father, he acknowledges much of the joy of life was gone. He ponders retirement (“I Won’t Be an Actor No More”). But what else is there? (“Life’s a Funny Proposition After All”). He scores triumphs on stage in “Ah, Wilderness” and “I’d Rather Be Right.” In the end, he believes, the work is all you have. And he still knows— as well as anyone who’s ever worked the stage— when and how to make an exit: “All Aboard for Broadway.”
Brash, energetic, and endlessly euphoric!
–The New York Times
George M. Cohan – The quintessential song-and-dance man: jaunty, confident, projecting great vitality. The actor playing him in this solo show must be a real triple-threat— able to sing, act, and tap dance with elan. Cohan is tremendously self-assured but also charming, endearing, likable. (If he comes across as conceited in a way that audiences find off-putting, the play will not work.) The actor must be able to convey vulnerability, too; the songs that are quieter, more poignant, such as “I Won’t be an Actor No More” and “Life’s a Funny Proposition After All,” are just as important as the boisterous flag-wavers. The actor playing Cohan must also be versatile since— over the course of this 90-minute one-man play— he will be showing us (without changes of makeup) Cohan from boyhood to old age; he will also be portraying, at various points in the play, other characters Cohan encounters, and each must be a distinct personality. The actor who starred in the original Off-Broadway production of George M. Cohan Tonight! was in his 40s when the play opened; but other actors, both younger and older, have played the role well. Since we are supposed to be seeing the ghost of Cohan, the exact age of the actor is not so important, so long as he can convincingly conjure up for us this consummate entertainer, and his cohorts.
Setting: A theater, in the present.
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“GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT!” “A brilliant, multi-faceted sparkler… sophisticated and amazingly thorough... Deffaa’s script is exquisite in its deceptive simplicity. [Jon] Peterson is a dynamic triple threat as actor, singer, and dancer… Deffaa’s direction is seamless.” –Theatremania.com
“Deffaa’s book and direction are as lean and crisp as Cohan’s own shows. On or Off-Broadway, as Chip Deffaa is seen as the definitive George M. Cohan biographer, Jon Peterson is proving himself the definitive Cohan interpreter.” –Elizabeth Ahlfors, Cabaret Scenes.org
“‘GEORGE M. COHAN TONIGHT!’ is, to put it succinctly, one of the most genuinely joyous events of the current season, all the more striking for being an almost complete surprise. Jon Peterson’s galvanic performance in the title role is spectacular to the point of being nearly unforgettable!” –The Irish Echo
“The most heartwarming theatrical romance of the season! Peterson, a true theatrical fusion reactor, is a consummate choice for singing and dancing through Chip Deffaa’s delectable early history of the Broadway musical. A ferocious tapper, a nimble singer, and a ceaselessly ingratiating presence on stage!” –TalkinBroadway.com
A show “that can play anywhere; it works in a cabaret room, in an Off-Broadway theater, a regional theater, or on a college stage. Insightful, entertaining, educational and never preachy, this is a definite ‘Dandy.’” –Barbara Siegel and Scott Siegel, Theatremania.com
“Musical comedy at its best! George M. Cohan himself would be dancing in the aisles!” –Joe Franklin, Bloomberg Radio
“One of the season’s best solo performances! From the minute he shows up on stage, Jon Peterson unleashes a storm of show business energy as fabled entertainer George M. Cohan and he doesn’t stop— song after song, some familiar, some not, but all interspersed with biographical patter, adding up to a stunningly memorable performance.” –William Wolf, New York Calling
“Welcome back to Broadway, George! Or West 22nd Street, which is close enough. Most theatergoers will probably think of either James Cagney or Joel Grey as the Man Who Owns Broadway, but Mr. Peterson easily erases memories of both as he strides across the Irish Rep stage as if it were Radio City Music hall. And the man can dance; you won’t see a buck-and-wing like this on too many stages anymore.” –The New York Times
“A powerhouse spectacle which contains awesome acting, sensational singing and dynamic dancing to captivate an audience from start to finish.” –Tony Annicone, The Theater Mirror
“The amazing Jonny Peterson is giving a tour-de-force performance… A charismatic charmer who also happens to be a ferocious tap-dancer with a gorgeous voice, the multi-talented Peterson has starred in several Cohan shows, all penned by Deffaa… Peterson brings Cohan to life with such panache and style that you’ll be astonished by how much fun you’re having.” –David Hurst, Next Magazine
“Jon Peterson deserves a bona fide all-out rave!” –The Waterbury, Connecticut, Republican American
Materials: Your materials will be sent to you two months prior to your opening date and will include everything necessary for your production. They can be ordered in Printed or Digital format. Printed Materials are provided on unbound three-hole punched loose-leaf paper while Digital Materials are provided via email as downloadable PDF files for you to print in-house. All materials are yours to keep! No deposits, no returns.
The Authorized Materials/Rehearsal Package for George M. Cohan Tonight! includes: