GEORGE M! tells the life story of George M. Cohan, a giant of the American musical theater who gave us such songs as Yankee Doodle Dandy, Over There, You’re A Grand Old Flag, and Give My Regards to Broadway, and who transformed the Broadway variety show into a book-driven musical where song and dance advance plot. We follow him over a 60-year period from his childhood in Rhode Island on the vaudeville circuit with his parents and sister as “The Four Cohans,” to New York, where he starts his 25-year absolute reign of the Broadway stage.
In his lifetime, George Michael Cohan was the great towering giant of the American musical theater, and GEORGE M! is his story. It is colorful, exciting and, above all, fast-moving, as any musical must be that covers sixty rather hectic years in a man’s life. After a brief prologue, the action begins on July 4, 1878, in Providence, Rhode Island, where Little Georgie, the Yankee Doodle Kid, is born. His parents, Jerry and Nellie Cohan, leave little doubt about their newborn’s future. “That boy,” says Jerry, “is not putting a foot on a stage till he’s 18 or 19 or even 21 — months!” And sure enough, in the following dance routine, there’s Georgie making his first halting efforts as a hoofer, gaining in confidence, improving his style and guiding what has now become The Four Cohans (sister Josie has joined the act) through the passing years until, as the number ends, they are at the Columbia Theatre in Cedar Rapids and Georgie, now a brash and brassy 20, is organizing an audition the family will perform for the powerful impresario, E.F. Albee.
George is certain Albee will book them into New York, and when the offer comes instead for a two-week stand in Poughkeepsie, a crushed and angry George all but boots Albee out of the theater. The Cohans go to New York, where Georgie has managed to book the act into the Adams Street Theatre. Sharing the bill with them is a singer, Ethel Levey, and before long, Ethel and George are married.
So it is The Five Cohans now, and George is more determined than ever to reach the top. They’re through with vaudeville’s 15-minute skits, he announces. From now on it’s the full two-and-a-half hours, and that means musical comedy. And Broadway. His first show, “The Governor’s Son,” is a dismal flop, but that doesn’t faze Georgie. This is where he belongs, and he sings his feelings in the poignant My Town. Wasting no time, George opens his next play, “Little Johnny Jones,” a month later, but something has happened to him. He’s become scared. How will he know if he’s any good, he asks his father. And Jerry, remembering some earlier day, says, “Don’t worry, you’ll know. The lights somehow seem brighter and stronger and the orchestra’s playing louder and faster and, Georgie, that whole stage just shines!”
And of course, that’s just what happens. George and the full company are on stage for Give My Regards to Broadway. George begins the song haltingly, but as he sings on, sure enough, the lights become brighter and the music faster and the first act curtain comes down on a note of brilliant triumph for the Yankee Doodle Kid.
In the second act, we follow George through his burgeoning career. He has now become a producer, and we see and hear more of the fabulous songs that made Cohan a legend: Mary, Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway, So Long Mary, and in a thrilling montage of small scenes, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Nellie Kelly, I Love You, Harrigan, Over There, and You’re A Grand Old Flag. These are Cohan’s most brilliant years, but they are also a time of sorrow. George’s beloved Broadway is changing. George resists it. He fights and goes into a long, self-imposed exile. But the theater is, after all, in his blood and when Sam Harris offers him a role in “I’d Rather Be Right,” he sighs with relief and accepts.
Sadly, he soon learns he has returned to a different kind of theater. The style and personality of the Cohan of old is wrong for 1937. Badly shaken, George stands alone on the darkened stage and remembers a long-ago night. He softly begins singing Give My Regards to Broadway. He tries his old tap routine. Then he goes full out on the number. The theater is empty, but he doesn’t care. He’s doing it to prove something to himself. And yes, he still has it! It’s all right now. He can make it. His wife Agnes joins him, and together they reprise Yankee Doodle Dandy, then leave … Not through the stage door in back, but out front, because, “That’s where Broadway is!”
Music and Lyrics by George M. Cohan
Book by Michael Stewart and John and Francine Pascal
Lyrics and Musical Revisions by Mary Cohan
Produced on Broadway by David Black,
Konrad Matthaei and Lorin E. Price
Directed and Choreographed for Broadway by Joe Layton
Such credits to the authors for all purposes shall be in type size equal to or greater than that of any other credits except for that of the star(s) above the title. In the programs, the credits shall appear on the title page thereof.
The title page of the program shall contain the following announcement in type size at least one-half the size of the authors’ credits:
is presented by arrangement with
MusicScope & Stage Musicals Ltd. of New York
2 Violin I
1 Violin II
1 Bass (& optional Tuba)
1 Reed I: Piccolo, Flute & Clarinet
1 Reed II: Clarinet (and optional Oboe & English Horn)
1 Reed III: Flute & Clarinet
1 Reed IV: Clarinet, Bassoon (& optional Bass Clarinet)
1 Trumpets I & II
1 Trumpet III
1 Trombone I
1 Trombone II
Timpani, Bass Drum, Snare Drum, Field Drum, Tom Tom, Cymbals (Suspended, Hi-Hat, Choke with Bass Drum), Fight Gong, Bells, Xylophone, Wood Blocks, Cow Bell, Triangle, Bird Whistle, Wind Whistle.
Piano (Piano-Conductor’s Score sent with rehearsal material); contains pit orchestra Piano-Celeste part and music for Stage Player Piano, Pianos I & II and ad lib. Accordion.
Stage Band: (all music included in pit orchestra parts)
George M. Cohan
Rose (Fay Templeton’s Maid)
Mrs. Red Deer
Freddie (Fay Templeton’s Manager)
Secretary (in Cohan & Harris office)
Piano Player (in Cohan & Harris office)
Second Little Girl
Boy in Pushcart
Many of the above players doubled in several other roles.
GEORGE M! played for 433 performances on Broadway at the Palace Theatre starring Joel Grey, Jerry Dodge, Betty Ann Grove and Bernadette Peters.
The Tony Award for Best Choreography (Joe Layton)
The Theatre World Award for Best Debut Performance (Bernadette Peters)