James A. Rocco was lying on a beach in Cancun talking with friends about the origins of musical theater when it came to him that George M. Cohan, the man who wrote more than 500 songs and jump-started the American musical into being, was not getting his due.
So Rocco went to work and with David Armstrong co-wrote a musical -- between workshops and rewrites this stretched over several years -- and the resulting Yankee Doodle Dandy is this year's Theatre Under the Stars free presentation at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
During the musical, several people play Cohan as they dance and sing through his better known songs such as "Give My Regards to Broadway," "You're a Grand Old Flag," "Over There" and, of course, "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
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Warming to his subject, Rocco gave Art Attack a quick history lesson. "George M. Cohan and his family were immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. They were vaudeville performers. George M. Cohan himself came up with this idea that you could actually do a show and tell a story with drama song and dance and put it in the language of these contemporary Americans."
Before Cohan, there hadn't been tap dancing -- which he described as a blend of Irish clogging and African dance -- onstage, Rocco says.
While researching Cohan, Rocco says he went to New York City to go through a collection of Cohan's work. Their songwriter found some unfinished pieces of music by Cohan, so he finished them for their show. The result is a show with lots of music and dancing that runs about two hours with an intermission.
Yankee Doodle Dandy runs July 17-22 at 8:15 p.m. at Miller Outdoor Theatre, in Hermann Park. Audience members are encouraged to use public transportation to the show. Visit Metro's website for information. For information about Yankee Doodle Dandy, go to the TUTS website or the Miller Outdoor Theatre website. Or call 713-558-8887. Free tickets for the covered seats are available on the day of performance between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Miller Outdoor Theatre's box office. There's a limit of four tickets per person. At 8 p.m. any unfilled covered seats will be released to the public. Or bring a blanket or lawn chair and watch the show from the lawn.