Creators of the Rosemary Clooney Tenderly musical are bringing another Cincinnati icon to the stage: bootlegger George Remus.
Composers Mark Friedman and Janet Yates Vogt have teamed with writer Joseph McDonough for George Remus, The Musical. It's a double world premiere: The performances 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 30-May 1, will christen the new outdoor Covington Plaza amphitheater at the old Covington Landing along the Ohio River.
George Remus, The Musical promises a night of mobsters, millionaires and murder with plenty of booze. Remus, an attorney and pharmacist, was one of the nation's most notorious bootleggers during Prohibition. He moved from Chicago to Cincinnati in 1919, bought up all the distilleries within a 300-mile radius, and distributed the whiskey through a loophole in the law allowing medicinal use of alcohol.
"Here's a very interesting guy, and the more you learn about him the more interesting he becomes," says Friedman, who has 10 licensed musicals with Vogt with New York publishers. "And it's a Cincinnati story – sort of like Sweeney Todd meets Ragtime in Cincinnati."
Remus and his wife Imogene threw lavish parties at their Westwood mansion, which some believe helped inspire F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. The "King of the Bootleggers" eventually was arrested, found guilty and jailed for two years, during which Imogene filed for divorce and fell in love with federal agent Franklin Dodge. On the way to court to finalize the divorce in 1927, Remus shot and killed Imogene in Eden Park – and then beat a murder charge by pleading temporary insanity.
"Long before O.J. Simpson, the Remus trial was called 'the trial of the century,' " Friedman says. "Many people don't know about Remus, but hopefully more will know about it after this weekend."
This weekend, George Remus, The Musical will be presented in "workshop open-book form." Think of it as a radio play with costumes. The actors will perform with a script in hand, little stage movement, and no props, scenery or dancing (due to COVID-19). Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical was workshopped the same way in Dayton before it was staged at Playhouse in the Park.
"The purpose of the production is to give the three of us an idea of the audience reaction, length and how it is working or not working," says Friedman, who began composing hymns with Vogt in the 1990s before writing musicals.
It's their first collaboration with Cincinnati playwright McDonough, who twice won the Mickey Kaplan New American Play Prize. He has worked with the Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. McDonough suggested doing a Remus show four years ago.
Set in the Roaring '20s and Jazz Age, George Remus has a wide variety of musical styles, including Scott Joplin-like ragtime music and blues numbers. The title role is played by Michael Sherman. Maggie Perrino, theater director for The Carnegie center in Covington, directs the show.
“Prohibition remains a fascinating period in American history, along with the rise of organized crime, cult heroes and infamous figures," Perrino says in The Carnegie's publicity. "George Remus examines the story of a man pursuing his version of the American Dream which, given his local connections, make for a unique regional story."
Tickets are $20. For a $35 ticket, The Carnegie also is offering a bourbon experience in partnership with Covington-based Revival Vintage Bottle Shop that includes a "self-guided" bourbon flight sampler. The bourbon packages may be purchased in advance and will be available for pick-up at will-call the day of the show.
George Remus includes adult language and themes. It is not recommended for children under 13.