James Frances Cagney Jr. and his future wife, Frances “Billie” Vernon, were born one month apart, in the summer of 1899. They met, 21 years later, as members of the chorus for the show Pitter Patter, and they married two years after that. Then, they did something pretty strange in the acting world: They stayed married for 64 years, until Jimmy died, in 1986.
Cagney was individual in more ways than the longevity of his marriage. He sang and tapped danced (he won an Oscar, in 1942, playing George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy), as well as he portrayed gangsters (who can forget the scene when he rubs a half grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face in the 1931 movie, The Public Enemy?) He was an amateur boxer as a young man, and owned a working cattle farm later in life. He repeatedly stood up to Jack Warner, even winning his breach-of-contract suit against Warner Brothers in the mid 1930s, and he was an active labor leader. Cagney was a street fighter, a hard worker, and an all-around human dynamo, wrapped up in a 5’5” package. He also got accepted to Stuyvesant High School in New York, which means he was exceptionally bright.
You can meet ‘Jimmy’ in the dramatic musical, Cagney, at the Westside Theatre in New York City. Robert Creighton convincingly plays the legendary entertainer, and happens also to have written the music and lyrics (with Christopher McGovern) for the show. You’ll tap your own feet to all-time favorites, Yankee Doodle Dandy aand Grand Old Flag, and hear some cool original songs, including Black and White. Following Jimmy from the streets of New York to his rise as one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, the show moves with ease between ebullience and earnestness. “Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, especially in rousing numbers like You’re a Grand Old Flag and Over There, could sell tap shoes to Tibetan monks,” wrote Anita Gates in her 2015 review for The New York Times.
The five performers who work with Creighton all are excellent, especially when they’re dancing together. I especially liked Bruce Sabath as the obnoxious Jack Warner and Ellen Zolezzi as Jimmy’s devoted wife.
P.S. Reading the Playbill before the Cagney curtain went up, I noticed that Riki Kane Larimer was the producer. She’s the same Riki Kane who invented and brilliantly marketed the now-famous Rabbit Wine Corkscrew, among other housewares products. I became friends with Riki and her husband when I interviewed her for a leading trade newspaper in the home furnishings industry. It was nice to see that she’s still bringing us great things!
To enter to win a pair of tickets to Cagney, fill out the form below!
1 FOF will win. (See official rules, here.) Contest closes May 26, 2016 at midnight E.S.T. Contest limited to residents of the continental U.S.