Yankee Doodle Boy (or Young George M. Cohan)
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Yankee Doodle Boy (or Young George M. Cohan)

This joyful show by award-winning writer Chip Deffaa earned raves in New York. The score includes Cohan hits like <b>You’re a Grand Old Flag</b>.

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Yankee Doodle Boy (or Young George M. Cohan)

This joyful show by award-winning writer Chip Deffaa earned raves in New York. The score includes Cohan hits like You’re a Grand Old Flag and I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Author:    Chip Deffaa


A dynamic entertainer, playwright, songwriter, and producer, George M. Cohan dominated American theater in a way that no one else ever has. In his day, he was the most popular composer of popular music in the world. Cohan’s songs, such as “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag,’ remain timeless bits of Americana. For his talent and patriotism, Cohan was honored with a Congressional Medal. 
Based on actual events, Yankee Doodle Boy tells of a 13-year-old boy who’s been cast in a Cohan show and isn’t sure he can handle the challenge. To give him encouragement, Cohan shares his own inspiring life story, telling how, with the support of his unusually close-knit family, Cohan rose from poverty to fulfill his dreams. 
Written by ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award-winner Chip Deffaa, Yankee Doodle Boy mixes classic Cohan songs with delightful rarities and brims with Cohan’s own can-do spirit. The original New York production of this lively one-act musical featured a cast of six, with one actor “doubling’ a handful of roles. But flexible casting–for anywhere from six to a dozen or more cast members–is possible.

Yankee Doodle Boy (or Young George M. Cohan)


(or Young George M. Cohan)

Written, arranged,

and originally directed by


Music and Lyrics by


(with additional lyrics by Deffaa)


 Copyright © 2004, 2005, 2006 

by Chip Deffaa

All Rights Reserved

CAUTION: Professionals and amateurs are hereby warned that YANKEE DOODLE BOY is subject to a royalty.  It is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, the British Commonwealth, including Canada, and all other countries of the Copyright Union.  All rights, including professional, amateur, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, public reading, radio broadcasting, television, and the rights of translation into foreign language are strictly reserved. 

The amateur live stage performance rights to YANKEE DOODLE BOY are controlled exclusively by Drama Source and royalty arrangements and licenses must be secured well in advance of presentation.  PLEASE NOTE that amateur royalty fees are set upon application in accordance with your producing circumstances.  When applying for a royalty quotation and license please give us the number of performances intended and dates of production.  Royalties are payable one week before the opening performance of the play to Drama Source Co., 1588 E. 361 N., St. Anthony, Idaho 83445, unless other arrangements are made. 

Royalty of the required amount must be paid whether the play is presented for charity or gain, and whether or not admission is charged.  For all other rights than those stipulated above, apply to Drama Source Company, 1588 E. 361 N. St. Anthony, Idaho 83445.

Copying from this book in whole or in part is strictly forbidden by law, and the right of performance is not transferable.

Whenever the play is produced, the following notice must appear on all programs, printing and advertising for the play, “Produced by special arrangement with Drama Source Co.”

Due authorship credit must be given on all programs, printing and advertising for the play.

No one shall commit or authorize any act or omission by which the copyright or the rights to copyright of this play may be impaired.

No one shall make changes in this play for the purpose of production without written permission.

Publication of this play does not imply availability for performance.    Both amateurs and professionals considering a production are strongly advised in their own interests to apply to Drama Source Company for written permission before starting rehearsals, advertising, or booking a theatre.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, by any means, now known or yet to be invented, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, videotaping or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

For David W. Barth, the original “”Yankee Doodle Boy,””

and Seth Sikes, who grabbed the spotlight























The first production of YANKEE DOODLE BOY opened at Danny’s, 346 West 46th Street, New York City, on Febrary 13, 2005 with the following all-Equity cast:

George M. Cohan….. RYAN SWEARINGEN


Nellie Cohan…. JOAN JAFFE


Theater manager, clerk, school principal, et. al…. MICHAEL T.  WRIGHT

Percy Helton…. SETH SIKES


CHIP DEFFAA was the writer/director/arranger. 

DAWNE SWEARINGEN was the choreographer; JUSTIN BOCCITTO provided additional choreography.

Music and lyrics by GEORGE M. COHAN (with lyric revisions by DEFFAA).

RON L.  HACKEL was the musical director, and provided additional arrangements and music preparation.

BRETT KRISTOFFERSON provided music preparation and additional arrangements, based on scores by Cohan and Charles Gebest.

MARY ANN LOPINTO was the stage manager.

DON SCHAFFER/Don Schaffer Public Relations served as press representive.

LARRY SCHIFF served as legal counsel.

The playwright is represented by THE FIFI OSCARD AGENCY /PETER SAWYER, 110 West 40th Street, New York City, 10018, 212-764-1100. YANKEE DOODLE BOY was originally produced by 



Production Associates: Jon Peterson, Jed Peterson, Chase Baird,

Peter McMurray, Ryan Lammer, Luis Villabon, Dave Warren, Ellery

Bakaitis, Sterling Price-McKinney, Darren Guenther.  Office

manager for Chip Deffaa Productions LLC: Jennie Dolegowski.

Cohan project catalyst: Chase Brock.  A tip of the hat to Bighead

Productions, Sam MacKinnon, president.  Audience-research 

assistance by Max and Julia Deffaa. Company physician: Dr. Braden 

Gibbs. Special thanks to Larry  O’Keefe, composer  of Bat Boy, who 

suggested the idea of writing this script, and to Eric  Millegan 

(“Uncle Broadway”), who provided additional motivation.  Our gratitude  to Jennie Cohan Ross and the Cohan family, Tristan Viner-Brown,  Tommy Tune, and Carol Channing. Thanks to the  late Percy Helton, whose recollections inspired our play; Ed Grimm (son of Cohan actor  Lore Grimm), for additional information; Cohan experts John Kenrick,  Philip Chevron, and Dave Collins; David “Slim” Eugene; and Nicholas and Nathaniel Stannard-Schenk. Special  assistant to the director: Justin Eisbrenner, A.B.F.  This production  was made possible with support  from Chashama (Anita Durst, Artistic Director).  And thanks, always, to Charlotte Moore  and Ciaran O’Reilly of the Irish Repertory Theatre.

Original Cohan sheet music/memorabilia from the Chip Deffaa

collection; our thanks to Marq Stankowski, Danny Walker, and the

Museum of the City of New York for additional  music and more.


After being workshopped at Harlequin Studios, New York City, in

2003, YANKEE DOODLE BOY was presented in its first public

reading at the Theater Row Studios on 42nd Street, New York City,

on October 19th, 2004 by the following company: 

George M. Cohan….. JON PETERSON 


Nellie Cohan…. JOAN JAFFE 


Theater manager, clerk,  et. al…. MICHAEL T.  WRIGHT  

Percy Helton….  RYAN LAMMER  

CHIP DEFFAA was the writer/director/arranger. 

STERLING PRICE-McKINNEY  was the musical director. 

Music and lyrics by GEORGE M. COHAN (lyric revisions by Deffaa). 

BRETT KRISTOFFERSON  provided music preparation and additional arrangements.


by Chip Deffaa

This play is designed for six singing actors: one will portray the dynamic showman George M.  Cohan (1878-1942), the lead character; another, Jerry Cohan, George’s father; another, Nellie Cohan, George’s mother; another, Josie Cohan, George’s sister. The family performed together for many years as “”The Four Cohans.”” Another actor will portray Percy Helton, a boy who is appearing in his first Cohan production at the age of 13.  Percy’s narration frames this play.  (As a youth, he provides someone for younger audience members to relate to from the start.) One versatile character actor with a comic touch can “”double”” all of the remaining small roles: theater manager, hotel clerk, school principal, song publishers, vaudeville performer, etc.  By making simple changes of costume–perhaps now donning a derby hat and glasses, now a fedora, now a clerk’s viser, now a loud jacket, etc.–and making distinctive changes in manner of speaking, this actor should clearly establish different characterizations. (Although this script is written for a cast of six, if you wanted to use more performers you could assign the small roles to individual performers rather than having one actor “”double”” them, and have a larger ensemble to sing the opening number and the finale; thus the show could easily be performed by a dozen or more.) 

Set requirements are minimal.  At the start of the play, we are watching the stage of a Cohan play in rehearsal.  The stage is essentially bare, except for a couple of simple folding chairs, upstage.  These chairs will later be used when Cohan shares reminiscences with Percy–and thus the audience–while incidents he recalls from his past are enacted upstage. (The lighting should shift whenever the action shifts from Cohan–sharing his reminiscences with Percy downstage left–to scenes from Cohan’s life, enacted using the greater part of the stage area.  Actors should be brought on and offstage quickly for these vignettes.) 

At the beginning of this play, downstage right, there is also an easel or music stand, which can be used to hold placards (the way vaudeville acts were traditionally announced).  Most of the placards that will be used in the play are kept as props in the wings, to be carried onstage by the theater manager when needed. But several signs are discreetly preset onstage (perhaps leaning next to the piano, or atop the piano, with the words on them out of the audience’s sight), to be put into use at selected moments later in the play by GMC or Percy.

Cohan’s music is eminently danceable; the director or choreographer has opportunities to stage musical numbers with as little or as much movement as desired. Numbers can be expanded, for extra dance breaks if the director or choreographer so chooses.

 It is recommended that the musical director sustain moods by continuing to softly play the melodies as underscoring, after the performers have finished singing certain songs: “”Give My Regards to Broadway,”” “”I Won’t Be an Actor No More,”” and “”I’m Mighty Glad I’m Living and That’s All.”” There are other points in the script when underscoring is recommended, while GMC and/or Percy speak.


(or Young George M. Cohan)

For the start of the show, the house lights should be darkened. Actor move into place for the opening number.  The music then begins–the spirited strains of Cohan’s “”The Man Who Owns Broadway.”” The lights come up and we discover all members of the cast, except for George M.  Cohan–hereafter referred to as

“”GMC””–on the stage.  We are watching the rehearsal for a musical comedy.  The year is 1908.  A vaudeville-style placard on the stand or easel, downstage right, informs the audience of the setting: “”In rehearsal, at the Liberty Theater. New York City, January 30, 1908.”” The actors are dressed in dark blue pants or

skirts and white shirts.  The actors might be stretching, warming up, one or two perhaps using a chair for balance.  Percy steps forward and begins singing, soon joined by the others.  This is a number they are practicing for their show; the number also servesto tell us in the audience who Cohan is.

PERCY. (Sings, directly to the audience:)

He is the man who owns Broadway,

That’s what the daily papers say.


The girls are turned away

at ev’ry matinee.

They go to see the player not the play, they say–

(At the final, sustained note of the music above, the cast members freeze in place on stage.  The youngest cast-member, Percy, walks downstage center and addresses the audience; it is recommended that the music be continued softly as underscoring as Percy says the following lines.)

PERCY.  (To the audience.) I was 13 the first time I got to perform  in a Broadway show. That was also the first time I got to work with George M. Cohan–the biggest man in show business.  He was my idol.  He wrote and starred in his own musicals.  He wrote the scripts, he wrote the songs.  He made up the dances, he directed, he produced.  No one in show business had ever done so many things, so well.  They called him “”the man who owns Broadway.””  (Percy takes a few steps to downstage right. His mood becomes a bit more subdued; the underscoring may grow a bit more serious in feeling.)  He knew my father, who had just died.  And he made a little part for me in the new show he was rehearsing.  He was actually busy supervising two shows at the same time.  And that day we had to start rehearsals without him.  I was so nervous….

(Percy steps back and rejoins the others onstage to resume singing.)

THE ENSEMBLE. (Sings, hushed to help build tension:)

He is the man who owns Broadway,

That’s what the daily papers say.

The girls are turned away

at ev’ry matinee.

They go to see the player not the play, they say.

Kings on their throne may envious be,

He’s got the popularity.

If there’s anything in New York that you see you want just say.

Drop a line or wire

to the sole proprietor,

The man who owns Broadway.

They say……

(Dressed in a very dapper suit, perhaps carrying a cane, GMC enters from the back of the auditorium and strides up the aisle towards the stage, singing out–in a ringing voice–the concluding line of the refrain.)

GMC. (Sings:) 

… I am the man who owns Broadway!

(GMC heads up to the stage–bristling with energy and self-confidence–talking and then singing to one and all.)

GMC. (Talking.) Sorry I’m late, everybody.  I’ll take it from here, cast.  The

next chorus, you know, will be mine alone to sing.  (As GMC begins singing the next chorus, to his fellow cast members and to the audience, he is greeting them–perhaps shaking hands with some, nodding to others, giving Percy a pat on the back or tousling his hair, and so on.) 

GMC. (Singing, to cast and to the audience:) 

I am  the man who owns Broadway,

That’s what the daily papers say.

 The girls are turned away

 at ev’ry matinee.

 They go to see the player not the play, they say.

 Kings on their throne may envious be,

 I’ve got the popularity.

If there’s anything in New York that you see you want just say.

 Drop a line or wire

to the sole proprietor,

 The man who owns Broadway.

 They say I am the man who owns Broadway.

(Segue immediately into next song, “”HELLO BROADWAY,”” as an exultant song/ tap-dance routine for GMC.)


Hello, Broadway!

Gee, you’re good to see.

You  look good to me.

I’ve been longing, longing for you night and day.

I’ve just been waiting for a chance to say…

(GMC dances….)

There’s no place like  Broadway,

especially if it’s home, sweet home.””

(The other cast members clap for GMC..)

GMC.  (To the cast.) All right, listen up everybody.  You know, our show opens in two weeks–

A MALE CAST MEMBER. –Which means you’d better finish writing the script soon, George!

GMC.  Don’t you worry about that!  But we’ve got another challenge to face.  Donald Brian has just quit the show.

(The cast members appear anxious.)

JOSIE.  And he’s got the next biggest part, after yours, George.

GMC.  Well, I’ve decided that if I rewrite the part a bit, with a little work young Percy Helton here (GMC puts a hand on Percy’s shoulder) can take over that role–

PERCY. (Nervously.)   I can’t, Mr. Cohan!  I’m just 13.  I’ve never done a big show before.  

GMC.  (Grabbing Percy and shaking him.) Listen, Percy, I’ve watched you.  You’re a natural, like your father was. I’m giving you a priceless opportunity.  Most folk are too scared to say yes when the best opportunities come their way.  They go through life always feeling they’ve missed out on something–and never knowing quite what it is.  You want a career in show business?  If a director asks if you can do anything–whatever it is–you say yes.  Understand?

PERCY.  (Stammering, nervous, uncertain.) Yeh-Yeh–YES, Mr. Cohan.

GMC.  I’ll help you. We’ll work day and night if we have to.  The rest of the cast can go home for the day.  I need to talk with young Percy.  (Everyone except for GMC and Percy exits.  GMC gestures that he wants Percy to take a seat, as he brings the two chairs from upstage to a spot, downstage left.  GMC and Percy sit

down on the chairs.)

PERCY.    Mr. Cohan, I just can’t do any more.  I cry myself to sleep every night since my father died.  You don’t know what that’s like.  

GMC.  Don’t I, young man?…  Let me tell you, Percy, we do our best work when challenged.

PERCY. But you’ve got it easy, Mr. Cohan.  You’re the man who owns Broadway.  You sing and dance, and the whole country imitates you.  President Teddy Roosevelt invites you to entertain at the White House. Me?  I’ve been thinking about giving up show business, altogether.  I don’t know if I’m good enough.

 (GMC rises.)

GMC.  (To Percy.) What made you want to be a performer, Percy? Was it because your father was one?  Last summer, I watched you help your father out in his song-and-dance act at Tony Pastor’s Music Hall.  You reminded me of myself at your age.

PERCY.  I loved working with my father.  But the truth is–I knew I wanted to make performing my career the first time I saw you in a Broadway show.  My father and I rode on the train for 45 minutes, from our home in New Rochelle, so we could see you in “”Little Johnny Jones.””  I didn’t  blink, for fear I’d miss something. I loved the way you strutted, like you owned the stage.  I got home, and for a long time I was imitating the way you’d sing “”Give My Regards to Broadway.”” I sang that song of yours so many times with my Dad, at our family’s piano.

GMC.  (To Percy, gently.)  You still remember the words?

(GMC gets Percy to stand up with him.)

(Song. GMC begins singing “”GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY,”” tenderly, with compassion for a boy mourning his father; Percy will join in. The song starts off slowly, freely.  The mood is wistful at first.  It gets a bit brighter as they get further into the song, but we should till sense that Percy is somewhat

unsure of himself.)

GMC.  (Sings:) 

 Give my regards to Broadway,

 Remember me to Herald Square.

(GMC gestures for Percy, who seems hesitant, to sing.) 

PERCY. (Sings:)

 Tell all the gang at Forty-Second Street

 That I will soon be there.

 GMC.  (Sings:)

 Whisper of how I’m yearning

 to mingle with the old-time throng.

PERCY. (Sings:)

Give my regards  to old Broadway

and say that I’ll be there  e’er long.

GMC. (Sings:)

Say hello to dear old Coney isle, if there you chance to be,

When you’re at the Waldorf, have a smile and charge it up to me.

Mention my name ev’ry place you go, 

as ’round the town you roam.

PERCY.  (Sings:)

Wish you’d call on my gal…

GMC. (Sings:)

Now remember, old pal…

PERCY. (Sings:)

when you get back home,

GMC and PERCY.  (Sing:)

Give my regards to Broadway,

 Remember me to Herald Square.

 Tell all the gang at Forty-Second Street

 That I will soon be there.

 Whisper of how I’m yearning

 to mingle with the old-time throng.

Give my regards  to old Broadway

and say that I’ll be there  e’er long.

(Percy crosses to GMC, who hugs him.)

(The music to “”Give My Regards to Broadway”” should be continued softly under the dialog to provide nostalgic underscoring as GMC and Percy chat.)

GMC.  You’ve got the talent, Percy.  You just have to

develop it.

PERCY.  I remember, I made my Dad take me back to the theater to see you again, and  again.

GMC.  You had a very good father, Perce.  

PERCY.  I wanted to be you, Mr. Cohan.  But I could never be you. You’re the biggest star in America.  Every song you write and sing becomes a hit.  Everyone says you were an overnight sensation.

GMC.  What they don’t tell you, Perce, is that it often takes 20 years of hard work to become an “”overnight sensation.”” Everyone reads in the papers about George M. Cohan, “”The Man Who Owns Broadway.””

(GMC and Percy sit down again, GMC bidding Percy to sit down as he says, “”Let me tell you the story…)

Let me tell you the story most people don’t know–the story of young George M. Cohan.  If you understand what I’ve gone through to get here, maybe it will help you with your life.

(The underscoring ends.)

My father, Jerry Cohan, loved being a song-and-dance man. 

PERCY.  Just like my father.

GMC.  Well, when my father was young, he really had to struggle to make a living.  He’d tour from town to town, appearing on the bill in variety theaters, wherever he could find work to support the family. My earliest memories are of my father, singing and dancing.

PERCY.  Mine, too.  I loved hearing my Dad sing.

GMC.  Many nights I’d fall asleep listening to my Dad practicing the songs and dances he made up for his act.  And–as early as I can remember–I loved to watch from the wings, as he performed on stage.


(A theater manager steps a bit out from the wings, stage right.  He removes the vaudeville placard that says “”In rehearsal…”” and replaces it with a new placard.  He announces the words that are written on this placard: “”Jerry Cohan: Singer,

Dancer, Philosopher,”” and then exits.  The lights come up on the vaudeville placard–and on Jerry Cohan as he makes his entrance–and go down on GMC and Percy.  The lights will shift whenever the action of the play shifts from GMC and Percy talking in the present, to scenes from Cohan’s youth.)

MANAGER.   Jerry Cohan: Singer, Dancer, Philosopher.


(SONG. JERRY COHAN, jauntily carrying a cane and wearing a derby, strolls onto the stage from upstage right, and sings “”YOU CAN TELL THAT I’M IRISH,”” segueing seamlessly into an excerpt from “”THE DANCING MASTER,”” doing a bit of a dance as well.)

JERRY.  (Sings:) 

You can tell by the touch of the brogue,

you can tell, by the wink of the rogue;

you can tell all the while, 

By the style, by the smile;

You can tell, by the wit of the talk,

you can tell, by the swing of the walk,

You can tell very well,

while I feel  mighty swell,

that I’m Irish.

[SONG. “”THE DANCING MASTER”” (excerpt)]

It’s easy, very easy,

if you watch ev’ry twist, ev’ry turn.

Keep your eyes upon me.

And surprised you will be

At the dancing you have  yet to learn.  

(We hear, repeated, the music corresponding to the last three lines– “”Keep your eyes upon me, / And surprised you will be, / At the dancing you have yet to learn”” — and Jerry dances to them.  He then freezes in places, while GMC continues with his narration, while the music continues as underscoring. As a general rule, characters in scenes from Cohan’s past will freeze in place when he is talking to Percy in the “”present”” in the play.)

GMC.  (To Percy.) My mother, Nellie, gradually learned more and more about singing and dancing, until she became my father’s equal partner in the act.

(Nellie steps onstage from the stage-right wings, taking her place beside her husband.  The vaudeville placard is now changed by the manager to read: THE TWO COHANS.)

NELLIE. (Sings, and dances the same way Jerry did:) 

It’s easy, very easy,

if you watch ev’ry twist, ev’ry turn.

Keep your eyes upon me.

And surprised you will be

At the dancing you have  yet to learn.

(We hear, repeated, the music corresponding to the last three lines– “”Keep your eyes upon me, / And surprised you will be, / At the dancing you have yet to learn”” — and Nellie dances to them.  She then freezes in place while GMC continues with the narration, while the music continues as underscoring.)

GMC. (To Percy.) I was born 29 years ago, Percy–on the Fourth of July, 1878.  The first present I remember my father giving me was a pair of dancing shoes.  It meant a lot to me that I would be learning to sing and dance like my father and mother.  But that also meant I would

Yankee Doodle Boy (or Young George M. Cohan)

Author: Chip Deffaa

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