BWW Reviews: YANKEE DOODLE DANDY - Fantastic, Patriotic, Fun & Free!
Houston's Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) is offering James A. Rocco and David Armstrong's patriotic and biographical YANKEE DOODLE DANDY as its 45th FREE summer musical at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The entertaining show has a score composed of George M. Cohan's best known numbers and additional music and lyrics written by Albert Evans. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY is more-or-less an illustrated lecture on George M. Cohan's life-more a revue than musical. Despite this, TUTS is providing Houston audiences with a fun and magical night of theatrical glitz and glamour that should not be missed.
James A. Rocco serves as writer, director, choreographer, and narrator on our journey through George M. Cohan's life. The show opens with the full company performing a rousing rendition of "All Aboard For Broadway" before James A. Rocco introduces audiences to Cohan's parents, the birth of Cohan (which may or may not have been on July 4th), and his introduction to the world of performing. James A. Rocco leads the audience through the ups and downs, the failures and ultimate successes of George M. Cohan's life. The Act I finale, "Grand Old Flag," is particularly memorable for its use of patriotism, fireworks, and confetti cannons. Yet, the show doesn't shy away from presenting that George M. Cohan's first marriage was unsuccessful, which allows the audience to really enjoy Albert Evans spectacular lyrics on the sentimental and touching song "Pick Up Your Dreams." As any good biographical piece would, the audience follows the story of George M. Cohan all the way to his death. Then, the audience is treated to a fantastic montage chronicling his impact on the American musical theatre as a genre, which is the quite possibly the most powerful and moving piece of the show.
Portraying the more mature George M. Cohan, Robb McKindles does a fantastic job with all the signing and dancing. He particularly shines in the "Yankee Doodle Dandy" number, which is a recreation of what the original staging may have looked like. Robb McKindles, along with the rest of the cast, makes tap dancing look simplistic and fantastically skilled in this medium of art.
Matt Owen's portrayal of the younger George M. Cohan is great as well. James A. Rocco tells the audience how George M. Cohan never wrote a love song; however, Matt Owen is still able to convey affection towards both his mother and wife in the role. His vocals on "Give My Regards to Broadway" are particularly stirring and his tap numbers are wonderful too.
Melinda Cowan, Cynthia Ferrer, Tari Kelly, and Greg McCormick Allen all do superb jobs in their parts as well. Each of them sparkles and shines, showcasing their talents throughout each number-gloriously singing and dancing their hearts out.
Each member of the ensemble is a master of his or her craft, as well. Each number and dance seems full of more energy and more spectacular than the last. They never flag in fatigue, showing impressive amounts of stamina and energy. A stand out member of the ensemble is the gorgeous Caitlin Cannon, who does an impressive tango sequence and shines as Velma Kelly in the finale montage. Xavier Alcala-Herrera and Charles Swan stand out as being particularly great throughout the show as well.
The scenic design is top-notch. Being a free performance, I'm not sure what I expected, but I know I didn't expect to see such a beautifully constructed set. TUTS always has incredible set pieces, so this sumptuous set shouldn't have been a surprise. The recreation of the bronze statue and Times Square backdrop are particular favorites from the show.
Gregory A. Poplyk's Costuming is of Tony award winning level. Each piece perfectly captures the fashions of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The audience sees dazzling piece after dazzling piece. While the acting, singing, and dancing are all of a purely fantastic quality and truly make for an enjoyable experience and night of theatre, if for no other reason, people should see this show for the costuming alone. The costuming is that good.
For 45 years TUTS has been very generous in providing Houston with FREE performances every summer. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY does not disappoint and serves as a great way to expose your family and friends to the magic of live theatre at an unbeatable price. This is a must see production of fun and enjoyable show. If you're like me, you'll wish that the actors were given more dialogue to convey the information that is reserved for the narrator, but despite all of this, the show is still a great and unforgettable experience.
YANKKE DOODLE DANDY runs at the Miller Outdoor Theatre until to July 22, 2012. FREE tickets are available at the Miller Outdoor Theatre box office on the same day as the performance between 10:30am and 1:00pm. Any remaining tickets will be available one hour before curtain. If you can't get a ticket, bring a cozy blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the show from the Miller Theatre lawn! Or, if waiting in line for a ticket is not something you want to do, for each $50 tax-deductible donation to TUTS, the organization will set aside two reserved tickets under the covered pavilion. Please be aware that any unfilled seats will be released to the general public at 8:00pm each night. To make a donation and have a reserved seat, please contact Seth Malin at 713-558-2656 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos courtesy of TUTS and ChristIan Brown.
James A. Rocco as the Narrator.
Members of the Ensemble perform "All My Boys."
Members of the Ensemble perform "All My Boys."
Members of the Ensemble perform "Nellie Kelly."
Members of the Ensemble perform "I Was Born in Virginia."
The Company in "The Final Montage."