Ordway Center's producing artistic director James A. Rocco and Ordway associate artistic director Jayme McDaniel share direction and choreography credit on the musical, which is said to offer a grittier view of showbiz life than past tellings of the Cohan story. Performances play to Aug. 17.
The show borrows from the Cohan song trunk (brimming with such hits as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There" and more) to create a score that meshes with a libretto by David Armstrong, producing artistic director of The 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, where a version of this project premiered in 2004 under the title Yankee Doodle Dandy!
According to Ordway production notes, the show "paints a very realistic picture of the star-spangled 'Man Who Owned Broadway,' George M. Cohan. Yankee Doodle is the dynamic showbiz saga of a brash, charismatic, and uncompromising character whose unstoppable drive gave birth to the myth of Broadway. Cohan's raw passion is embedded deep in the consciousness of every American and continues to influence every musical on Broadway today." According to Ordway, the show began on a beach in Cancun when Armstrong and Albert Evans (who researched and adapted Cohan's songs for the show) were both reading different Cohan biographies.
Armstrong stated, "In 1942, near the end of his life, Cohan who had been bed-ridden for months, got out of his sick bed and had his nurse take him to see the James Cagney movie 'Yankee Doodle Dandy.' After watching the film for 15 minutes Cohan changed his plan, and instead went to visit his old haunts — the theatres he used to own — the places he used to frequent. They walked all over Times Square, went home and Cohan died! He literally gave his regards to Broadway on one of the last nights of his life. True story."
Yankee Doodle kicks off Ordway Center's 2008-2009 theatre season.
The cast features Wisconsin native Tari Kelly (Broadway's Grinch, The Boy from Oz) in dual roles of Ethel, Cohan's first wife, and Georgette, Cohan's daughter; Gary Briggle (a Twin Cities favorite) as Old Lou the Stage Doorman; Guthrie favorite Ron Menzel as George's best friend and business partner, Sam Harris; Broadway vets James Young and Cynthia Ferrer as Cohan's parents Jerry and Nellie; Tiffany Haas (of the recent Drowsy Chaperone tour) as Cohan's sister, Josie; Twin Cities actor Fred Wagner as Abe Erlanger; and Kacie Riddle as Cohan's daughter Georgette. Rounding out the ensemble are Tom Danford, Brian Sostek, Amanda Paulson, Alexandra Auxman, Katie Allen, Marnie Buckner, Christian DeMarais, Lisa Bartholomew-Given, Geoffrey Goldberg, Seth Hoff, Brent McBeth, Krystyn Pope, and Andrew Rasmussen.
Valerie Gebert (The Lion King national tour) is the musical director, and Raymond Berg is associate musical director.
The creative team also includes Marcus Dillard (lighting designer), Wendell Bell (sound designer), Chad Van Kekerix (scenic designer). Tulle & Dye are coordinating the costumes based on Greg Poplyk's original designs. Alex Farino is the production stage manager.
George M. Cohan was born in Providence, RI, on July 3, 1878. His parents, Jeremiah and Helen (Nellie), were vaudeville actors. Cohan and his sister, Josephine eventually became full partners in the family vaudeville act known as "The Four Cohans." As a teenager, he began writing songs and vaudeville skits, by age 20 he was performing, writing and managing the family's business. Throughout his life Cohan wrote more than 40 Broadway plays and musicals, collaborated with other authors on 14 plays to which his name was never attached, wrote and composed over 500 songs and musical numbers, produced 128 theatrical attractions and personally appeared in five films and over 3,400 live performances. In 1941 Cohan won a Congressional Medal of Honor for the song "Over There." Cohan died on Nov. 5, 1942.
Tickets are $48-$65. Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is located at 345 Washington Street in St. Paul, MN. For more information call (651) 224-4222 or visit www.ordway.org.
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts The Ordway, a major U.S. not-for-profit performing arts center, is home to a wide variety of performances throughout the year that encompass American musical theatre, world music, dance, jazz, and vocal artists on its Main Hall and McKnight Theatre stages. In addition, each year the Ordway presents its Flint Hills International Children's Festival and serves over 50,000 children and adults through its Ordway Education programs. The Ordway opened its doors on Jan. 1, 1985.