Theatre Mirror Reviews - "George M. Cohan Tonight!"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2006 by Tony Annicone

"George M. Cohan Tonight!"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Fresh off its successful Off-Broadway run and starring the original performer, Jon Peterson, and with original writer/director of the show, Chip Deffaa, "George M. Cohan Tonight!" makes its New England Premiere at the Foothills Theatre Company in Worcester. This 90 minute show is the story of Cohan, the first real musical comedy star of the 20th century and it brings to life his timeless music. In this one man extravaganza, Jon Peterson relives Cohan's storied career through song and dance, weaving the tale around the various events and people Cohan met throughout his life. This high powered and energetic one man show is a powerhouse spectacle which contains awesome acting, sensational singing and dynamic dancing to captivate the audience from start to finish. The comic and poignant moments are presented so vividly that the audience rises to its feet at the curtain call rewarding Jon Peterson for his brilliant show stopping performance. Bravo.

Writer/director Chip Deffaa creates a show about Cohan who has inspired him since his boyhood according to his director's notes. Chip thought about writing a book about him but found that his life was so theatrical, his songs so rich and rousing and varied that he felt Cohan's story is better told on stage. He weaves the tale of Cohan's life from writing his first song at the age of four to managing his vaudeville family troupe at the age of 15 to writing Broadway plays and to his later years where he was largely forgotten. One of the last movies he went to see was "Yankee Doodle Dandy" before he died in 1942. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his patriotic fervor, he wrote over 50 plays and hundreds of songs. Most of his songs became well known standards of the day including "Give My Regards to Broadway", "You're a Grand Old Flag", "Over There", "Mary's a Grand Old Name" and "Harrigan". Chip's script gives Jon the chance to act his heart out by playing the many other people Cohan met during his life and Jon uses many different voices for them and executes them fabulously. Jon's fantastic tenor voice sells all the numbers whether they are upbeat or ballads while his dancing skills are magnificent, too. His tap dancing takes your breath away. Jon not only captivates the audience with the Irish charm of George M. but also tugs at your heartstrings when his beloved sister Josie dies and in a lovely ballad "Life's a Funny Proposition After All'' where Jon sits on the edge of the stage and sings directly to the audience, leaving them in tears. His transitions and emotional impact of the material are topnotch. Jon is a triple threat performer who gives a tour-de-force performance in this role. The orchestra is splendid and is lead by Sterling Price-McKinney on the keyboards, Kevin Grudecki on bass and Pieter Struyck on percussion. So for a trip back to the late 19th century and early 20th century, be sure to catch this must see show of this fall season. You definitely won't be disappointed. Tell them Tony sent you.

"George M. Cohan Tonight!" (26 October - 19 November)
FOOTHILLS THEATRE COMPANY
100 Front Street, WORCESTER MA
1 (508) 754-3314

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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