More than $1 million was blown on the commercial Chi tryout of this new five-hand tuner from Rhode Island-based producer-director Richard Ericson. The premise — George M. Cohan comes back from the dead to rehabilitate a delinquent contempo teenager — looked dodgy from the start. But Chi auds were woefully unprepared for the jaw-dropping train wreck that unfolded at the Royal George Theater.
With an incoherent book, a tasteless tendency to traffic in 9/11 allusions and a cast of stiff-jawed Chi and road pros who looked and acted like they’d all made a Faustian bargain that has sent them to a well-paying hell, “Uncle Broadway” won’t be going anywhere near the titular Great White Way.
The conceit here is that a fiftysomething Midtown tour guide (played by Chi legit stalwart Alene Robertson) is a big fan of Cohan. That takes some swallowing for a start, since Cohan was at his peak long before this character would have been born.
But be that as it may. The guide, who hangs out with a singing bus driver, has a rapping white teen son (Chris Herzberger) who displays several varieties of angst. When the guide falls into a dream, the willing and able Georgie (Bernie Yvon) comes back to life to sing a few songs and teach the young fellow how to be the kind of patriotic Amurrican who would be right at home at a Republican convention.
Precisely how the kid gets to be in his mom’s dream is never made clear. The aim, it seems, was to sweep away all such narrative concerns by providing scene after scene of flag-waving. In one particularly egregious escapade taking off from Cohan’s monster World War I hit “Over There,” Georgie teaches the kid how to handle a massive Old Glory like a good fascist. For a moment, it feels like we’ve all been transported into a riff on “Springtime for Hitler.”
The bulk of the show is made up of limp renditions of the Cohan catalog (“Yankee Doodle Dandy,” etc.), although there are a couple of original numbers with music by Bruce Coyle. Coyle clearly has some talent, and his new ballads provide some of the very few redeeming moments here.
Other problems: The book is sophomoric at best in its attempts to suggest Cohan could be a savior of the post-modern world. A faux tickertape broadcasts messages about Columbine and 9/11, which plays out as being in the worst taste.
The producers, who have said they were trying to create new product for the road, would have been better stringing together the Cohan canon and hiring a few dancers. At least that might have had some appeal in Branson, Mo. As it has worked out, this dismal pastiche will please no audience anywhere.