The life and times of legendary showman George M. Cohan is the showbiz saga of the brash, colorful, cocky, charismatic, and uncompromising character who almost single-handedly invented the Broadway musical. Set against the colorful backdrop of Old Broadway, this large-cast show is filled to the brim with production numbers, tap dancing galore, and Cohan's glorious music, including “Over There,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.” Yankee Doodle Dandy! presents a fresh, contemporary view of a celebrated musical theater icon, and audiences will cheer at this unabashedly patriotic celebration of Broadway!
On a late night in 1942, the legendary showman George M. Cohan, now aging and unwell, shows up unexpectedly at the stage door of a dark and deserted old Broadway theater. The stage doorman, Lou, who worked for Cohan as a dancer more than 35 years earlier, is shocked to see him. Old George has just come from a movie theater across the street, where the film based on his life starring James Cagney has just opened. He walked out halfway through. “That’s not my life. That’s Hollywood!” he tells Lou. Agitated and upset, he begins to reminisce about the early days of his career. Back in 1903, this very theater was, in fact, where his family’s vaudeville act, “The Four Cohans,” was scheduled to make its New York debut.
Soon a brash, brilliant, and unstoppable 20-year-old George M. Cohan bursts onto the stage, determined to take New York by storm. He has written a new vaudeville act for his family (George, father Jerry, mother Nellie, and sister Josie) to perform. Instead of a traditional song and dance act he has devised a short play (The Governor’s Son) with specific characters, a plot, and new songs that help to tell it. George calls it a “musical comedy.” However, it must be given the seal of approval by the theater’s owner, Abraham Erlanger, one of the toughest and most powerful producers in show business. Erlanger hates what George has created— it is much too unconventional for him. He booked a standard, old-fashioned song and dance act and has no patience for, or understanding of, George’s new concept. Livid, George blows his top, insults Erlanger and ruins his family’s big chance. George vows to turn his back on vaudeville and create something that could play in a legitimate theater on Broadway (“You've Not Seen the Last of Cohan”). Luckily, his old friend, Sam Harris, happens to be at the theater that day and becomes as excited as George is by the potential of this kind of show. They join forces to produce George’s first full length musical comedy, Little Johnny Jones.
Amid much chaos and confusion, rehearsals get underway for Little Johnny Jones, which George is writing, starring in, directing, and composing all the songs for. He hires rising star Ethel Levy to play his love interest and gives her a song ("Musical Moon") that he had promised to his sister Josie, which creates some tension between them. Meanwhile, Sam is working hard to raise the money and keep the production on track. Still, any concerns they have get washed away by the excitement of the imminent opening night (“All Aboard for Broadway"). During the performance, George scores a huge success with his first big number ("Yankee Doodle Boy"). Then backstage, during the rush of intermission, he somehow finds time to propose to Ethel. He then rushes back onstage to premiere the song "Give My Regards to Broadway." Old George reminds Lou that the critics hated the show, “but the people loved everything about it— the comedy, the drama, the characters, the songs— and most of all— me!”
Over the next few years George creates a seemingly endless stream of successful shows and hit songs ("All My Boys," "I Was Born in Virginia," "45 Minutes From Broadway," "So Long, Mary"). At the height of his success, George buys his parents a house in the country, but feels betrayed to learn that Josie is going to get married and go off on her own, and that his parents have both decided to retire. Sam tries to talk a stunned and despondent George into an escape to Florida, where they can both take some time off, but instead George plunges back into work with even more vigor and determination ("The Man Who Owns Broadway").
George’s workaholic ways leave Ethel and their young daughter, Georgette, feeling abandoned and ignored, which places a strain on their marriage. Meanwhile, George finds himself drawn to two talented young performers, Agnes and Alice Nolan, whom he hires for his new show ("Atlantic City By-the-Sea/Oh, You Wonderful Girls"). One night, following a performance, Ethel confronts George about his neglect of her, and tells him that their marriage is over ("Pick Up Your Dreams and Go").
This rejection hits George harder than anything has before. For the first time in his life he decides that he will not go on in his show that night. He tells Sam, “I’ve never missed a performance— hell, the audience must be sick of me by now.” Sam tries to talk him out of it, but then calls for his understudy, Lou Clark, and informs him that he will have to play Mr. Cohan’s part that night. Lou is of course terrified and reluctant to do it. “They don’t want to see me,” he tells them. Sam insists that George help Young Lou get ready, and coach him in how to play the role. During the course of this, as Sam knew all along, George discovers that he is “just too big of a ham” to let somebody else play his part. George thanks Sam for bringing him back to his senses, and heads out onto the stage to do the one thing he truly loves ("You're a Grand Old Flag").
As the second act of George’s latest show The Cohan Revue of 1917 is about to begin, George rushes onto the stage to address the audience. The previous morning, war had been declared, and overnight Cohan composed a brand-new song. He wrote it to pay tribute to the brave young men who would now enter this “war to end all wars,” and to this country that provided such opportunity to immigrant families like his own. He is eager for this audience to be the very first to hear it ("Over There").
Two years later, George is now married to Agnes and they are parents to a new baby named Mary ("Mary is a Grand Old Name"). They are relaxing at the country house and basking in the glow of the rave reviews George had received for his latest play, The Tavern, when Alice and Sam arrive to announce that they are engaged. All this joy is short-lived, however, because soon a telegram arrives to inform them that all of the actors on Broadway are going on strike unless the producers recognize their new union, the Actors’ Equity Association.
George and Sam rush into town to find most Broadway shows already shut down by the labor dispute ("The Strike"). George, however, refuses to give in. He believes that he and Sam, unlike most other producers, have always treated the actors fairly, paid them decently, and provided safe and stable working conditions. How dare they strike against him! Sam tries to convince George that the only way the actors can achieve their goal is to close all of the shows down, but George will have none of it. He attempts to keep The Tavern running by hiring scabs and taking over the leading role himself. Finally, Sam comes to George with the new Equity contract and tells George that they have no choice but to sign it. “It’s the only way to stay in business,” he contends. George refuses to give in, and tells Sam that if he signs the contract their partnership will be ended. With his heart breaking, Sam signs the agreement, and he and George go their separate ways.
A few years later, depressed and defeated, George has distanced himself from almost all of his former colleagues and friends. His father finds him in a bar late at night and informs him that “The Four Cohans” have a booking. For a special one night only benefit performance, the family will reunite— but there is a catch. George will have to agree to rejoin the Friars Club, whose membership is made up of actors and others in the theatrical professions. He will have to come back into the Broadway community. Despite many lingering hard feelings, George can’t pass up this opportunity to perform with his family once again ("We Gave It Back to Broadway").
This joy, too, is short-lived, because in short succession Josie, Nellie, and Jerry all pass away, and George relinquishes the stage to Old George, who has to live on and experience a world that is quickly passing him by.
Old George discovers that his daughter Georgette, now a young woman, is trying to embark on a career as a singer, but has not asked for his help. He shows up uninvited at her rehearsal and clashes with both her and her cocky young manager ("That Harlem Melody").
He learns that Sam is dying of cancer and finally goes to visit him in the hospital. They have a bittersweet reunion, but George deeply regrets the 20 years during which he shut his best friend out of his life.
On the stage of the deserted theater— feeling bitter, angry, and alone— Old George asks Lou, “What was it all for? I spent 50 years here— in the dark. And what have I got to show for it?”
Old George storms out the stage door, and Lou chases after him. Refusing Lou’s offer to hail him a cab, Old George insists on walking home. Lou decides to accompany him. As they walk slowly up Broadway though the heart of Times Square, Old George begins to see visions around him. Not just figures and images from his legendary career— Jerry, Nellie, Josie, Ethel, Agnes, and Alice, all in their prime— but also images and characters from the musicals that will come after him. Musicals that he will inspire, and that might never have happened if he had not shown the way. Nearly the entire history of the Broadway musical flashes before his eyes, until finally he sees himself in the form of a huge statue standing at the center of Times Square today ("Finale: George's Vision"). Noticing a distinct change in Old George’s mood and demeanor, Lou asks him, “How you doing, Mr. Cohan?” “No complaints kid, no complaints,” he replies— and the curtain falls.
Propelled by the kind of vintage hoofing that built Broadway. The songs are all showstoppers!
George M. Cohan – A brilliant, cocky, brash, driven, dynamic, demanding, and charismatic master showman. He writes, sings, dances, and acts with equally thrilling genius, commitment, and dexterity. He is obsessed with show business, and almost nothing in his personal life means as much to him. His only true loves are himself, his work, his parents, his sister, and Sam Harris. He wants to be a good husband and father but is just too self-involved. During the course of the show he ages from 20 to 42. (This role requires very accomplished singing, dancing, and acting abilities.) Baritone.
Old George – An elderly, cantankerous, impatient, pissed-off version of his younger self. However, his dynamism, passion, and commanding star quality are still evident. He can’t fathom how or why the world has passed him by. Telling his story becomes an emotional rollercoaster ride for him. He is in his early 60s but looks and feels much older. (Very limited singing ability is required for this role). Baritone.
Sam Harris – George M. Cohan’s best friend and producing partner. A scrappy, dynamic go-getter from the streets of New York’s Lower East Side. He would do anything for George. Their relationship is at the center of the story. During the course of the show, he ages from 22 to 60. (No singing or dancing ability is required for this role.) Non-singing.
Jerry Cohan – George’s father. A smooth, accomplished song and dance man. He would probably have been content achieving only moderate success if George had not pulled the whole family into stardom. During the course of this show, he ages from 40ish to 60ish. (This role requires very accomplished singing, dancing, and acting abilities.) Baritone.
Nellie Cohan – George’s mother. Warm, caring, and strong. A confident, versatile performer. During the course of this show, she ages from late 30s to late 50s. (This role requires very accomplished singing, dancing, and acting abilities.) Mezzo–Belt.
Josie Cohan – George’s sister. Spunky and dynamic. Lights up the stage. Jealous that her brother is always the center of attention. During the course of this show, she ages from early 20s to early 40s. (This role requires very accomplished singing, dancing, and acting abilities.) Soprano–Belt.
Ethel Levey – George’s first wife. A young and vibrant star in her own right. A savvy, wisecracking “gal” who can charm anyone with a wink, a joke, and a song. She is a dynamic, expressive singer and natural comic in the Fanny Brice mode. (This role requires very accomplished singing and acting abilities. Only limited dancing skill is required.) Soprano–Belt.
Georgette – The 20-something daughter of George and Ethel. Eager to prove herself, and desperate to receive her father’s attention and approval. Her talents are a whacky, outrageous and unmodulated mix of the talents of both of her parents. She masks her insecurity with the false bravado typical of the children of famous parents. Soprano–Belt. (In previous productions, one actor played both roles, but they could be divided between two actors.)
Lou – An ex-dancer, now in his 50s, who works as a stage doorman. A former employee and colleague of Old George. (Very minimal singing is required for this role.) Non-singing.
Young Lou – George’s longtime dance captain and understudy. (This role requires an accomplished comic actor who is also a very good dancer. He also plays the role of the Henchman and can double as a member of the singing and dancing Ensemble if needed.)
Agnes Nolan – Lovely, talented young Irish women with an eye for George. (This role requires accomplished singing and dancing abilities. This actor can also double as a member of the singing and dancing Ensemble.) Soprano–Belt.
Alice Nolan – Lovely, talented young Irish woman with an eye for Sam. (This role requires accomplished singing and dancing abilities. This actor can also double as a member of the singing and dancing Ensemble.) Soprano–Belt.
Abraham Erlanger – One of the most powerful and most successful producers in the show business. A real son-of-a-bitch. Ages from 40ish to 50ish.
Stage Manager – Overwrought and over-extended. Struggling to keep all of the balls in the air and keep up with George. (In previous productions, one actor played both roles, but they could be divided between two actors. These roles require very little singing or dancing ability.)
The Champ – Former heavyweight champion of the world. A big, handsome, musclebound lug who just happens to have natural performing abilities. 30ish.
Chick Gordon – A driven, brash hipster agent who is working hard to shape and promote Georgette into stardom. His attitude and personality are reminiscent of George at the beginning of the show. 30ish. (In previous productions, one actor played both roles, but they could be divided between two actors. Can also be a member of the singing and dancing Ensemble. On their own, these duel roles require very little singing or dancing ability.)
Young Georgette – Daughter of George and Ethel, eight years old. Non-singing.
Ensemble Roles: The ensemble members primarily portray professional singers and dancers performing in George M. Cohan’s Broadway musicals, as well as the following:
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“A panorama of musical comedy images unfurls like a ‘Grand Old Flag’... it is clear that the visual language of American musical theatre is as powerful as its sounds and stories.” –The New York Times
“The hits just keep on coming. And with the bright, snazzy treatment they get, these cornball standards are pretty irresistible. Cohan tapped into something brash and brassy in the American spirit— and still does.” –The Seattle Times
“A solid and satisfying musical.” –The Southhampton Press
“There are gorgeous moments in Yankee Doodle... the final montage, a goosebump-raising phantasmagoria of images that put us smack in the middle of Broadway and takes us from Cohan’s heyday right through today. It’s drippingly old fashioned and wondrously inventive.” –The Atlanta Journal Constitution
“Propelled by the kind of vintage hoofing that built Broadway. The songs are show stoppers!” –Variety
“It’s tuneful, it’s colorful— Yankee Doodle exhilarates!” –Dallas Morning News
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 Yankee Doodle Dandy! include: