“George M” – Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ March 1, 2010


Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre
Mesa, AZ

The 1968 musical “George M” is rarely performed today and there are good reasons.

The biography of early Broadway star George M. Cohan uses “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and other familiar Cohan tunes to trace the entertainer’s rise from small-town vaudeville acts with his parents and sister to becoming Broadway’s king until 1919. It then looks at his pitiful demise as a popular star when recreating his then passé routines and songs lost favor.

Unfortunately, book writers Michael Stewart, John Pascal, and Francine Pascal didn’t find much interesting or dynamic about Cohan’s life. Instead they turn him negative picturing him as a pushy performer with some good ideas who shoved his way to the top. The show never answers why this talented hoofer and singer who created several popular shows became a star since it’s not hard to imagine that other entertainers during this era were just as good.

Cohan dedicated his life to Broadway and, because of his commitment, he divorced his first wife, Ethel, also a performer. He later married another performer, Agnes, who accepted her second-place stature to his career. “George M” also fails to explain why his initial pushy zeal to create new and different entertainment styles later constricted him as he grew unwilling to incorporate anything new or different into his routines.

The show’s book also telescopes Cohan’s later life into quick, choppy scenes while dragging out his early and boring push to the top. The show never reveals why Cohan lasted as long as he did.

The Broadway Palm production is agreeable enough. John Ramsey bounds about tirelessly singing and dancing as George. He has the personality and sparkle to carry a show like this even if the material he’s given turns his character flat, uninteresting, and lifeless. The rest of the large cast is competent but no one stands out.

The production’s weakest component is Ann Nieman’s pedestrian staging and uninventive dances. The short show plods often as Cohan’s life isn’t dazzlingly exciting and it moves through dull history in spurts without a smooth flow. The production numbers, using big Cohan tunes, are repetitious and monotonous although the sets find clever ways to handle many awkward and abrupt shifts during Cohan’s life. JR McAlexander’s breezy orchestrations and the big sound he gets out of his four-person band does justice to Cohan’s rousing and often patriotic tunes.

“George M” fails to make Cohan interesting. The music and Cohan’s entertainment style is from a now distant generation and doesn’t make for a good show today. “George M” continues through April 10. For tickets, call the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre box office at 480-325-6700 or go online at www.broadwaypalmwest.com.

Grade: D