Review by Liz Eichler
The Carnegie’s world premier of George Remus, A New Musical opened this weekend and will play through August 28 in rotation with RENT and Into the Woods. All three shows are great, (read the reviews HERE) but Cincinnatians should run to buy tickets now to this new musical about the local renowned bootlegger.
Since Remus lived in our backyard, you will recognize the references: Covington, Price Hill, the Tafts, the Cincinnati Enquirer, and more. But you will also enjoy the high caliber cast (many CCM students) as they share this real-ish story of a man who had a dream–and incredible hubris.
Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman provide the music and lyrics and the book is by Cincinnati’s beloved Joseph McDonough. This is the story of the rise and fall of George Remus, (Michael Sherman) an immigrant who built a pharmacy empire, a renowned law firm, and a lucrative (at first) bootlegging business that may have influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby.” Spanning the years 1916 to 1952, the show gives us a glimpse of the man and his inner circle: daughter Romola (Maria Zierolf), his gold-digging second-wife Imogene (the amazing Eliza Levy), his fixer Ned (August Bagg), his eventual cell-mate Frank Dodge (Tyler J. Martin). We also see Al Capone (Aaron Marshall) as his biggest competition and Mabel Walker Willebrandt (Kate Mock Elliott in a scene-stealing performance)–the fascinating assistant Attorney General who is focused on bringing down Remus and all bootleggers.
The story is clearly presented and we can easily follow the timeline due to the clever use of slides which depict the actual photographs, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia which anchor us in Chicago and later Cincinnati. The set (also used by the other two shows and designed by Tyler Gabbard) is industrial with a lot of set dressings. One of the most clever uses includes the upper deck as “Price Hill.” The audience (it was a full house!) definitely responded with pride of place. Costumer Helen A Raymond-Goers had quite a challenge in combining the feel of 1916 through 1927 in her costumes and allowing the cast to move in some spirited dance numbers. You could identify strong dancers and movers with Maggie Perrino’s choreography, and ensemble member Jamal Stone shines. Perrino also served as Director, adeptly bringing together the cast, production artists, musicians and crew for this premiere of a new work. This show has legs beyond Cincinnati. Music Director is Janet Yates Vogt, who leads a peppy live pit.
There are a number of memorable songs, including “We Two,” (featuring Eliza Levy’s powerful voice), the hilarious “Who the Hell is Andrew Volstead,” “Millions and Millions,” and “Don’t Mess with Mabel,” which got the strongest response from the Opening Night audience. These upbeat songs feature great vocals and strong movement. “There Once was a King” beautifully echoes throughout the show. There are some songs which don’t land, such as the odd “A Perfect Circle” which appears late in Act One. The first act clocks in at about 1 hour 30 minutes, so the audience was already getting antsy. Act Two moves along at a much faster pace.
Overall, I recommend audiences see the show as a sketch of local history that is well performed and informative. However, there are some core questions about the character of George Remus, and his treatment as an anti-hero. Should we love him? Hate him? Pity him? The lyricists romanticize him with many slow and doleful ballads exploring his feelings–contradicting his passion for power and winning as spoken in the text. He has a number of antagonists (Capone, Mabel, Imogene and Frank, and of course himself) but to a modern audience Mabel seems the most interesting.
See the show for yourself and decide if he is a man to be honored, or pitied. Tickets to George Remus, A New Musical can be purchased HERE.
Cast of “George Remus the New Musical”
Michael Sherman – George Remus
Eliza Levy – Imogene Remus
August Bagg – Ned Gillespie
Madison Mosley – Maggie
Maria Zierolf – Romola
Kate Mock Elliott – Mabel Walker Willebrandt
Tyler J. Martin – Franklin Dodge
Aaron Marshall – Al Capone
Jamal Stone – Jess Smith
Kyle D. Taylor – F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sean P. Mette – Charlie Taft
Julia Noelle Brosas – Ensemble