George M! is the story of the great American composer, George M. Cohan. Born into an Irish show biz family from Rhode Island, Cohan’s dad suggested he be taught to dance before he walked, to “save time.” Indeed, the young Cohan took to the stage almost immediately, and the four Cohans, including sister Josie, were a fixture on the vaudeville circuit.
Cohan’s story is told on the stage, because it’s pointed out that onstage was where he really lived his life. This production gives us an excellent feeling of the atmosphere of competition and camaraderie that existed among the performers. They spent time together, stayed at the same boarding houses, and crossed paths frequently. Luckily for “Little Georgie,” his soon-to-be first wife, Ethel, was also a vaudevillian.
This is a great production for anyone who appreciates the art of the tap dance. It’s no surprise that the director and choreographer are one in the same. Richard Stafford and his associate, Jonathan Stahl, keep the show moving at a fast clip, and we’re treated to non-stop dancing, singing, and dialogue. Cohan lived his life to the max, and reigned over Broadway for a quarter of a century; slow was not a speed he recognized. Even the courtship of Ethel is completed in a moment.
The time frame ranges from 1880 to 1937; there are lots of costume changes. Leon Dobkowski captures each era with grace and precision. The clothing adds a great deal to the show, and I appreciate the attention to detail.
The talented cast never lets down the energy on stage. I especially liked Melodie Wolford as George’s mother, Nellie. She has a 1,000 watt smile, and conveys the excitement and anticipation of the life she’s chosen. She’s also a dynamite tap dancer. The big dream is to get to New York, because “Nobody starts in Poughkeepsie; that’s where you finish,” according to George.
Of course, the great fun in experiencing a presentation about the life of one of America’s greatest popular composers is in recognizing all the great old songs, including “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Over There,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
Westchester Broadway Theatre is a beloved institution in this county. It’s here that special occasions are celebrated, and groups come together. It’s spacious, comfortable, and the dinner is fine. There’s a real dedication to putting on the best productions possible, with the most enthusiastic actors, and behind the scenes people who are devoted to making each showunique and entertaining.
George M! through July 1, 2012
Westchester Broadway Theatre
1 Broadway Plaza
Elmsford, NY 10523
Photo credit: John Vecchiolla
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics.