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Archive for Thursday, June 8, 2006

Theater gives its regards to composer

Musical pays homage to ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ writer

June 8, 2006

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Charles Goolsby scowls in a scene as Jerry Cohan during dress rehearsal for George M. Cohan's "George M!" The show features a 22-member cast.

Charles Goolsby scowls in a scene as Jerry Cohan during dress rehearsal for George M. Cohan's "George M!" The show features a 22-member cast.

George M. Cohan's critics considered him a flag-waver, and he probably saw that as a compliment.

The Broadway composer is known for songs such as "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Over There," still patriotic staples today.

"I think it's his gift of music and the legacy he's left us," says Mary Doveton, director of Lawrence Community Theatre. "Some of these things were written over 100 years ago, and we're still singing them."

Many of those songs, as well as the stories behind them, will be featured starting Friday at the theater with a production of "George M!," a 1968 musical that chronicles Cohan's life.

Charles Goolsby, left, as Jerry Cohan and Mark Skolaut as George M. Cohan act out a fight-scene number titled "Harrigan" during dress rehearsal Monday at the Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H. "George M!" opens Friday and runs through June 25.

Charles Goolsby, left, as Jerry Cohan and Mark Skolaut as George M. Cohan act out a fight-scene number titled "Harrigan" during dress rehearsal Monday at the Lawrence Community Theatre, 1501 N.H. "George M!" opens Friday and runs through June 25.

"It's different than most musicals," says Amanda Wehner, who plays Agnes Nolan Cohan, George's second wife. "It's a collection of his songs, and it covers such a long period of time. It's not a day of events or a week of events like most shows."

Cohan, who grew up in a theatrical family, wrote 80 plays, had producing credits on 150 others, made 1,000 stage appearances and wrote more than 500 songs. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor and has a statue in Times Square.

But while many people know his songs, which also include "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "Mary's a Grand Old Name," they might not know much about him.

"I didn't know a thing about him, I'm embarrassed to say," says Mark Skolaut, who plays Cohan in the production. "I was familiar with some of his music because it's classic Americana music. I think, as a kid, everyone sings the 'Yankee Doodle' song and 'Over There.'"

Front row, from left, are Charles Goolsby as Jerry Cohan, Jennifer Forman as Josie and Barbara Wasson as Nellie. Back row, from left, Kendra Verhage plays Ethel, and Mark Skolaut plays George M. Cohan in a dance number during dress rehearsal Monday evening. The Lawrence Community Theatre's production of George M. Cohan's "George M!" opens Friday and runs through June 25.

Front row, from left, are Charles Goolsby as Jerry Cohan, Jennifer Forman as Josie and Barbara Wasson as Nellie. Back row, from left, Kendra Verhage plays Ethel, and Mark Skolaut plays George M. Cohan in a dance number during dress rehearsal Monday evening. The Lawrence Community Theatre's production of George M. Cohan's "George M!" opens Friday and runs through June 25.

Skolaut found the role to be difficult because he's on stage for the entire musical.

"I've done quite a bit of theater in the Kansas City area, and I'd say this is by far the most challenging role I've done because of the sheer amount of stage time," he says.

Doveton, who is directing the show, says there are other challenges for the 22-member cast. For one, she says, the show offers little down time for set or costume changes.

And the production has offered a chance for some special effects, including video projections and use of new lighting equipment.

But it's clear the star is Cohan, and Doveton is expecting plenty of toe-tapping and singing in the audience.

"I think the show is really a fun, upbeat celebration of Cohan's music," Doveton says. "It leaves people in a real upbeat mood. It's good entertainment on a hot summer night."

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