The New Players Theatre, done out in red velvet and harking back to a lost era of music hall, is the perfect setting for this old-school entertainment. George M Cohan Tonight! is a musical biography of an old Vaudevillian, all-American performer.
Born in 1878, Cohan went on to write more than 50 shows and 500 songs, including "Hello Broadway" and "The Yankee Doodle Boy". His family performed across America as 'The Four Cohans' before 'Georgie' found fame on Broadway.
In this one-man show, written by Chip Deffaa and directed by Bart Williams, David Herzog plays Cohan – punctuating his story with over 30 musical numbers. His energy is contagious and the fixed toothy smile that never leaves his face is straight out of the 1920s. Cohan’s cheerful naivety and boyish character are both captured in Herzog’s performance and one-liners are delivered with well-practised, precise comic timing: “I could be more modest than all the other performers put together”.
Inevitably some of the songs are better than others – "Harrigan" is particularly humorous while "Life’s a Funny Proposition" stands out for having more substance. Derek Hartley’s simple choreography is solid enough but Herzog’s occasional awkwardness at the ends of songs is not disguised by a recurring, and irritating, thumbs-up. Christopher Ash at the piano is a sensitive accompanist to Herzog’s lime-light-loving Cohan.
Herzog may not be the world’s best singer, or the world’s best dancer. But he plays Cohan with an obvious tenderness and enthusiasm. The music is superficial and as frothy as candyfloss but the show nevertheless succeeds as a piece of charming, if sugary, nostalgia.