Monday, May 9, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Cagney -- TOP PICK (through May 28)

Robert Creighton leads the cast of Cagney, Photo: Carol Rosegg
Closing May 28

A Yankee Doodle of a Musical
By Lauren Yarger
Never under estimate the ability of an Off-Broadway production to entertain on a Broadway level.

Cagney, starring Robert Creighton as the song-and-dance-man/gangster actor is getting a revised production at the West Side Theatre Off-Broadway following its New York premiere at the York last Spring and it's one Yankee doodle of a musical.

Creighton, who received Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations (the show has racked up a bunch of nominations in various awards for theater and dance his season), gives an outstanding performance as James Cagney. Set to music and lyrics by Creighton and Christopher McGovern (who also arranges), the story (with a book by Peter Colley) tells the story of the scrappy kid who takes a job as a dancer to help support his mother (Danette Holden) and brother, Bill (Josh Walden -- I saw understudy Freddie Kimmel).

He takes Vaudeville by storm and soon gets a call from Jack Warner (Bruce Sabath), head of one of Hollywood's powerhouse studios, to come to LA. He finds himself playing a bunch of "You dirty rat!" gangsters and eventually leaves Warner to try to make the kind of films he wants to, like "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Songs like George M. Cohan favorites "Give My Regards To Broadway," "You’re A Grand Old Flag" and the title song also are featured in the musical. Matt Perri music Directs and conducts the five-man band.

Exciting, tapping choreography by Joshua Bergasse makes the six-person ensemble seem much larger as the actors sing and dance through the actor's life story, tightly directed by Bill Castellino.  Colley does a nice job of selecting events from Cagney's life to include (no tendency here, as in so many biographical shows, to try to highlight every moment from the subject's life.) The stories of his romance and marriage to entertainer Willie Vernon (Ellen Zolezzi), his pro-labor politics and run-in with McCarthyism, his friendship with Bob Hope (Jeremy Benton) are nicely blended and enhanced by projection designs by Mark Pirolo on James Morgan's set.

The highlight of the entertaining show is Creighton's performance -- a role he embodies as if born to play it.

Cagney is playing an open-ended run at the Westside Theatre, upstairs at 407 West 43rd St., NYC.
For performances through July 3, 2016: Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.

For performances beginning July 5, 2016: Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Thursday at 2 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.

Tickets are $89- $109: cagneythemusical.com212-239-6200. There are a limited number of $25 student rush tickets for each performance (two tickets per person, cash only with valid student ID.)

Additional credits:
Martha Bromelmeier (costumes), Michael Gilliam (lights), Janie Bullard (sound),  Larry Lelli (music coordinator) and Christian Kelly-Sordelet and Rick Sordelet (fight directors).

-- No content notes. Enjoy.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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