Rather than interpolating Cohan songs into an Alger plot about ragamuffin New York City kids in the nineteenth century, which was the show's goal as originally announced, writer-director David H. Bell changed his approach to the project. The show is now "inspired by the works of Horatio Alger Jr. and George M. Cohan" and has book and lyrics by Bell, with music by Jeremy Cohen.
The Bowery Boys, running to Feb. 15, 2009, in suburban Chicago (Lincolnshire, IL), features Brian Sears as Dick and Morgan Weed as Mary, with Lesley Bevan as Nanny Mae, Wilson Bridges as Johnny, Jeff Dumas as Kid Twist, Sean Fortunato as Dean Fiske, Andrew Keltz as Mickey McGuire, Susan Moniz as Mother, Roger Mueller as Lord Halberstam and Bernie Yvon as John.
According to Marriott, "Set in 1876, New York City, in the world of Diamond Jim Brady, Tammany Hall and the notorious Five Points, The Bowery Boys follows the journeys of Dick, a street wise kid, and Mary, a young British heiress whom Dick befriends after she is cruelly abandoned on the mean streets of New York."
Alger (1832-1899) was popular for his rags-to-riches tales, and his shoeshine character Ragged Dick Hunter. In his director's notes, Bell said, "I specifically focused on five books written about Alger's most popular character, Dick Hunter, though I found the stories a little thin to build a show around. But then I ran across the pictures and writing of Jacob Riis ("How the Other Half Lives"), who created enduring images of the lives of Immigrant America and the distance between the optimistic and continually upbeat street boys of Horatio Alger and the horrible deprivation of the actual conditions of the period seemed to be an exciting place to start building a musical.
"My initial intention was to interpolate lesser known George M. Cohan songs, who was writing at the same time as Alger, into a Horatio Alger story. But as the story started to emerge, and my music collaborator and composer Jeremy Cohen started to evolve the score, the Cohan songs became a point of departure musically, and the score of The Bowery Boys started to have a voice of its own, very different from the music that inspired it."
Bell added, "I have always been fascinated by the American 'rags to riches' mythology — it is the essential ingredient of the 'American Dream': that at any moment we all can re-invent ourselves, escape our circumstances — and through hard work and perseverance — attain success."
The Bowery Boys musical is not to be confused with the "Bowery Boys" series of comic B-grade movies starring Huntz Hall, Leo Gorcey and other regulars, made 1946-58. The Bowery is a section of the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Aaron Thielen, Marriott's lead artistic director, heads the artistic team for The Bowery Boys, with direction by Jeff Award winner Bell (Chicago's Shenandoah, Oliver!, Footloose), choreography by Matt Raftery, musical direction and vocal arrangements by Michael Mahler, sound design by Cecil Averett, properties design by Greg Isaac, costume design by Nancy Missimi, set design by Tom Ryan and lighting design by Diane Ferry Williams. Patti Garwood conducts the Marriott Theatre orchestra with orchestrations by David Sigel.
For more information call The Marriott Theatre Box Office at (847) 634-0200 or visit www.marriotttheatre.com.
Alger has inspired other musical theatre writers, as well. Shine!, an 1876-set musical about shoeshine boy Dick Hunter, has been seen in Manhattan readings.