One of the parents of modern American musical theatre, George M. Cohan — the early 20th-century director, producer, actor, composer, lyricist and playwright — was conjured in a new musical bio at The Irish Repertory Theatre starting March 3, Off-Broadway. The solo-actor musical George M. Cohan Tonight! has proved popular and will extend to May 14, three weeks beyond its announced closing of April 23.
Irish Rep is the Manhattan not-for-profit devoted to the Irish voice. (With a name like "Cohan," it doesn't get more Irish.)
The one-man musical featuring Jon Peterson as the nimble showman (the son of vaudeville performers) is written, arranged and directed by Chip Deffaa, the former entertainment writer for The New York Post and an authority on Cohan. Music and lyrics are by George M. Cohan with additional material by Deffaa.
The musical follows the colorful life and career of the legendary showman whose statue stands in Times Square (at the south tip of Duffy Square, where the TKTS booth is located). Cohan penned such classic American songs as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Mary's a Grand Old Name," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Yankee Doodle Boy" and more.
George M. Cohan Tonight! opened March 9 at Irish Rep's West 22nd Street home. *
Musical direction is by Sterling Price-McKinney.
"George M. Cohan may well have been the single most talented figure in American theatrical history," according to the Irish Rep. "He gave Broadway its pace, its beat, its snap. He wrote, directed, and produced scores of shows; penned hundreds of songs; and became the most popular musical comedy star of his era. Critics called him 'The First Actor' and 'The Man Who Owns Broadway.' Starting out as a poor Irish-American kid from Providence, RI, Cohan never spent more than a few weeks in school. Nevertheless, he remade the American songbook, and made America — not Europe — the standard-setter for musical theatre."
Jon Peterson (who plays Cohan and choreographs the work) won Back Stage's "Bistro Award" for his portrayal of Cohan, and appeared in musicals in his London. His credits there include 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Cats, The Sound of Music and more. He starred as the Emcee in Sam Mendes' and Rob Marshall's acclaimed production of Cabaret for two years in the U.S. national tour before covering the role on Broadway.
Chip Deffaa has written eight books on music and popular culture, including "Blue Rhythms" and "Voices of the Jazz Age" (University of Illinois Press). For 18 years, he covered entertainment for The New York Post, writing about jazz, cabaret and theatre. He has created and staged five different shows about Cohan, for all different cast sizes. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, ASCAP, the Drama Desk, NARAS, Deffaa is a recipient of the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award.
The creative team includes set designer James Morgan, costume designer David Toser and lighting designer Mary Jo Dondlinger.
Performances of George M. Cohan Tonight! are Tuesday–Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets are $50 and $45 and can be purchased by calling The Irish Repertory Theatre box office at (212) 727-2737. For more information, visit www.irishrep.org.