Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

George M!
6th Street Playhouse
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also Richard's reviews of Grandeur, Roman Holiday and Kismet

The Cast
Photo by Eric Chazankin
There doesn't seem to be a lack of what might be called "meta-musicals": shows about show business, like A Chorus Line, The Producers, Gypsy, Kiss Me, Kate, Follies, Funny Girl, Show Boat, Sunset Boulevard ... and George M!, the musical about American composer, performer, and producer George M. Cohan. At the beginning of the 20th century, Cohan was known as "the man who owned Broadway," creating one hit after another, and writing songs that have become classics—mostly of a patriotic sort: "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There." George M!, currently playing at Santa Rosa's 6th Street Playhouse, tells Cohan's story from his beginnings as a child performer in his family's vaudeville act until his waning years when his old-fashioned, jingoistic style of performance had gone out of vogue. Along the way we get more than two dozen Cohan songs and lots and lots of mostly excellent tap dancing from an energetic and capable cast, under the skilled hand of director Patrick Nims.

Despite the weakness of the book (by Michael Stewart, Francine Pascal, and John Pascal), the fact that more than a few of the cast have trouble staying on pitch, and the orchestra's loose, muddy playing, there are still many excellent aspects of this production. Most notably, the direction of Patrick Nims. Working on a very simple set (by Sam Transleau) with impressionistic projections that establish locations, Nims has staged this George M! with verve and dynamism. He has an artist's eye for composition, creating some lovely tableaux, most notably a Last Supper-esque scene at a boardinghouse where the Cohans lived during one of their stops on the vaudeville circuit. And once those tableaux break, Nims keeps the pace rocketing along. If only more of his cast had his gift for timing, as some of the best lines are rushed or delivered with misguided emphasis.

As George M. Cohan himself, Joseph Favalora delivers the goods—at least with his tap shoes. He plays the consummate showman with terrific energy and focus, which is vital since he's on stage virtually the entire show. Though his solo voice isn't quite up to his dancing skills, it's much better when he harmonizes with his fellow cast members, and brings to mind the marvelous performance he gave in last summer's Forever Plaid.

Favalora is ably supported by a cast of 20+. Though, like Favalora, their voices aren't individually strong (with a couple of exceptions, most notably Jill K. Wagoner), as a chorus they are quite good. As a dance ensemble, they're even better. For tap dancing to have its greatest impact, all the dancers must be in step with each other. Otherwise, that rat-a-tat synchrony audiences so love can end up sounding like a can of nuts and bolts rolling down a stairway. But mother-daughter choreography team Marilyn and Melinda Murray have not only done terrific work creating dance moves, they've got their charges tapping in marvelous unison.

The best comic performance of the show comes from Christian Caetano as Cohan's father Jerry. Caetano brings a lovely loose-limbed comic sensibility to his role and his outsized, rubbery facial expressions are perfect for the old vaudevillian.

If you're in the mood for a little Fourth of July flag-waving patriotism and some old-fashioned energetic tap dancing, the folks at 6th Street Playhouse have the show for you.

George M! runs through July 9, 2017, in the G.K. Hardt Theater at the 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Shows are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (Saturday matinees on June 24, July 1 and July 8). Tickets are $38 general admission, $33 seniors and youth Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday matinees, and $31 general, $26 for seniors and youth on Thursdays and Saturday matinees. Tickets are available online at, by calling the box office at (707) 523-4185 or during open Box Office hours.

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