Uncle Broadway, Royal George Theatre Center. Created by Richard Ericson, Bruce Coyle, Judith Swift, and Paul Grellong, this hybrid musical taps into the new patriotism while invoking the star-spangled nostalgia of America's greatest flag-waver, George M. Cohan. His spirit returns in a dream to help a sullen white teenage rapper bummed out by school shootings and an open-ended war; Cohan classics and lesser-known (some deservedly so) ballads contrast with the kid's hip-hop ditties, disparate styles reconciled in an up-tempo anthem, "American Stars." Despite all the cornball indulgences, the show aims for currency: an electronic bulletin board scrolls today's tragedies over the timeless Times Square.
Cohan's music is far more upbeat than the grungy sounds popular almost a century later: here a charmer like "Mary Is a Grand Old Name" is juxtaposed with "The Yankee Doodle Raps." In one perplexing second-act bit, Cohan's statue in Duffy Square debates the ghost of Cohan over how to keep their legacy alive. It's a good excuse, however, for the bronze-painted Jamie Baron to join Bernie Yvon's hard-hoofing Cohan in the forgotten novelty number "Always Hang On to Your Dancin' Shoes."
Director Ericson had the savvy to cast brassy belter Alene Robertson as both the kid's Cohan-loving mother and Lady Liberty, David Girolmo as an irascible bus driver and Uncle Sam, and 15-year-old dynamo Chris Herzberger as the kid who'll carry the flame. Cohan fans will forgive the relevance and focus on the reverence.