George M! A prom night it’s not, but a musical tribute history lesson, yes.

Published: Sunday, July 1, 2012 11:00 am By: Eugene Paul Source:
“Sic transit Gloria mundi.” Loosely translated: “There go the glories of the world.” Even looser: “Here today, gone tomorrow.” It’s the most quoted motto referencing live theater, that great art which is so vital, so immediate, it can take your breath away. And then, “How quickly they forget” might be as apt a theater motto. George M. Cohan was Mr. Broadway, writer, actor, singer, dancer, producer, theater owner. He created, wrote, produced hundreds of shows, hundreds of songs. He had been before the public for 58 of his 64 years. There was nobody like him. But here, in this audience of prom kids, giddy in their wow prom clothes, excited being in a theater, overwhelmed by the marvelousness of it all, George M. Cohan was -- who? What?

Here is this musical comedy which tells the whole life story of this guy? Maybe their parents heard of him, maybe they knew some of these funny songs – “Over There” drove their great grandparents into a patriotic frenzy that propelled the whole United States into World War I – but these kids were, at best, zombied. They knew nothing about George M. Cohan and didn’t care. All they saw was a chunky man who pushed people around, told big, fat lies, sang off key and tap danced. Pretty good dancing, sometimes. Lots of old timey costumes, lots of parading
around…So What?

Well, dear children, George M! includes in its history lesson of Show Biz the real birth of the musical, the very kind of show you are in the process of watching, a show that could not have taken place today if it had not been for that very same George M. Cohan…get it? Not only that, it is a very American story of bootstrap success, from the bottom to the top through sheer guts and talent. George M.’s parents
were vaudevillians. See them up there? They sang and danced on stage after stage in vaudeville theaters in town after town doing their act, several times a day, every day, for very little money, just like all the other vaudeville acts on the bill, the trained animals, the acrobats, the jugglers, the magicians, the specialties – you had to have a specialty. Sometimes, comedy skits. You got a lot of entertainment for your nickels and dimes. There were no TV’s, there weren’t even telephones. Certainly no computers. And no movies. Yes, my dears, not even movies.

The Cohans were Irish immigrants at a time when the Irish were at the bottom of the social pecking order. The Irish could be laborers, or
domestics, maybe petty officials, nothing special, or they could be entertainers if they were special. All of them poor. But Georgie had a fire in his belly.