By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
The first 90 minutes of Dandy! really are. The story of Cohan's rise from turn-of-the-century vaudeville act to the top of a Broadway marquee is told in flashback, the older Cohan played by Richard Sanders (the nebbish newsman from TV's WKRP in Cincinnati), the younger by Sean Martin Hingston.
All the old songs get sung in this production, which was written and directed by David Armstrong for Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, where this touring company originated. There's "Give My Regards to Broadway," "Harrigan," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There" and the title tune. The show over-credits the Irish-American Cohan with inventing the Broadway musical as we know it. Scenes from several of his shows are excerpted, providing evidence of why Cohan's music survives but the shows they came from haven't.
Hingston is a triple-threat performer as Cohan. He's a spiffy comedian, and his buoyant dancing mimics some of the stiff-kneed moves Jimmy Cagney gave to Cohan in the 1942 bio-flick Yankee Doodle Dandy (no exclamation point needed for that one). Hingston also shows off a Gene Kelly gymnastic quality in his tapping. Big singing voice, too.
There's just too much of everything in this show. The almost nonstop tap dancing, flag-waving and scenery-changing in Yankee Doodle Dandy!become red, white and boring in the plot-heavy second act. In his later years, it turns out, Cohan was a bitter old coot who tried to stop Broadway actors from forming a union by hiring scabs for all his shows.
The finale of Yankee Doodle is a ding-dong doozy, so profoundly overblown and ill-conceived it's painful to watch. As old Cohan (Sanders) fake-walks one last time down Broadway (just like Chris Guest and Parker Posey faux-strolling in Waiting for Guffman), costumed dancers from Cats, Chorus Line, Cabaret, Chicago and modern musicals that start with other letters of the alphabet strut and prance around him like a Bob Fosse nightmare. A tribute from Broadway's "children" to a musical pioneer? Who knows and who cares? By this point in a very long night, you're ready to stick a feather in this crap and call it macaroni.