Most stage shows face the challenge of living up to previous productions of the same show - but George M! has an even bigger challenge. It has to live up to one of the greatest films of all time, Yankee Doodle Dandy, which starred James Cagney.
I'm happy to report that Marshall University's Department of Theatre production holds up very well indeed, thanks to a terrific cast and some fantastic performances.
It's not often you see a show that has the crowd enthusiastically clapping along, but this is that kind of a show. It took an effort of will to keep from singing along with the cast on several songs (and I heard a few people in the audience who gave in to the urge).
The show tells the story of Broadway performer / writer / producer / director George M. Cohan, who became the king of Broadway in the early part of the 20th Century. The show is filled with the songs that made Cohan famous, including "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Harrigan," "Over There" and "You're a Grand Old Flag."
The title role is brought to life in amazing fashion by Sean Watkins, who captures the larger-than-life character perfectly, right down to the accent, the incredible dancing, and the powerful voice of Cohan. Truly impressive!
He's joined by an excellent supporting cast, including Chris Ferris and Emily Chapman as George's parents, and Maggie Saunders as his sister, the fourth member of The Four Cohans.
This is a dance-intensive show (and tap-intensive), which can be extremely difficult to stage, and the cast worked for months getting ready. Their hard work paid off, and the dancing is excellent, especially some of the big tap numbers. And Watkins is incredible with his dancing in the "Yankee Doodle Dandy" number.
The cast includes a surprising number of young actors, and the directors managed to draw on some incredibly talented local performers - in fact, a third of the cast members are recent stars from local children's theatre shows, including the radiant Sarah Hayes, Chuck Herndon, Scott Burner, Amy Klim, Nathan Mohebbi, Jeremy Plyburn and Maggie Saunders.
The rest of the cast also does a terrific job, including Sara Booth, Shelby Brewster, Katie Cavis, Brittany Flowers, Caitlin Haught, Greg Kiser, Erika Lawson, Erin Martin, Tristan Reynolds, Leila Rozzi, Rocky Scarbro and Alisha Woodall.
George M! offers a great look back at the early days of Broadway, and the tough road performers faced, learning the ropes in vaudeville, traveling across the country, and if they were lucky enough and talented enough, working their way up to Broadway.
The show features terrific music and dancing numbers, and is a heckuva lot of fun. Kudos to the directing team - Gene Anthony, who's one of our best directors (if not the best); Coni Anthony, who directing the outstanding choreography on display in the show; Jamez Morris-Smith, who created the fantastic scenic design; Joan St. Germaine, who designed the costumes (which perfectly evoked the era); and Bruce S. Rous, who was the music director and delivered outstanding performances from every member of the cast.
If you're looking for an entertaining show (and who isn't?), want a reminder of a more innocent time, or you're ready for a shot of patriotism, be sure to catch George M! - and bring the whole family. You'll thank me, your mother will thank me, your father will thank me, and your sister will thank me. (And that line will make sense when you see the show.)
Go, and tell your friends! We want to encourage Marshall to produce more terrific musicals like this! Oh, and buy those tickets as soon as you can - Friday night's show was virtually sold out, and the Saturday and Sunday tickets are going fast!