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The Medicine Show

book, music and lyrics by Allen Cohen


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Musical Selections

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THE MEDICINE SHOW is a musical slapstick farce, freely adapted from Molière’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself, and set in the Mississippi River country at the turn of the 20th century. To help sell its nostrums and elixirs, a traveling medicine show performs a play about a loveable rogue mistaken for a great doctor, who takes full advantage of people’s willingness to follow doctor’s orders.

Scalawag, a clever but lazy country woodcutter, and his shrewish wife Maxine find they have three days to come up with the taxes on their house or they will lose it. After one of their usual fierce fights, Scalawag goes off to try to make some money. Meanwhile Rebecca, a wealthy Southern Colonel’s daughter, is in love with Andrew, a poor student, but her father refuses to let them meet. Desperate not to marry the rich man her father prefers, she pretends to have been struck with a sudden illness. The Colonel sends his servant and the rich suitor to find a great doctor. They meet Maxine, who—still angry with her husband—tells them that he is a brilliant but eccentric doctor, and he will only admit that he is a doctor if they beat him up. They find Scalawag and address him as a doctor. He thinks they are crazy—but after they beat him, and tell him that money is no object, he agrees to help. Once at the Colonel’s estate, seeing his desperation (and wealth), Scalawag quickly takes advantage of the situation. Meanwhile Andrew approaches him and persuades him to help the young lovers elope. But after they do, Scalawag’s connivance is discovered. He is about to be lynched when the lovers return and, with luck and some clever stratagems, Scalawag is freed and reconciled with Maxine, and everything ends happily.


5 (to 8) men, 3 women

THE DOCTOR/SCALAWAG: comic leading man, a lovable rascal, lazy and lecherous, easy-going but cunning, quick to take advantage of opportunities for wine, women, song—and money. Baritone.

MAXINE: Scalawag’s wife. Strong, shrewish, quick to take and give offense. Needs terrific belt or strong mix up to E.

ANDREW: early 20s, young leading man, idealistic but clever. Strong high baritone or second tenor.

REBECCA: early 20s, lovely Southern girl but very strong underneath. Strong mezzo mix up to (around) G; or belt/mix up to about Eb (if “Never” is transposed down a major third).

COLONEL DUPONT: 50 or 60s. Archetypal Southern Colonel, elegant, somewhat pompous. Baritone or bass. Can double Deacon Twaddle.

LUKE: late 20s or 30s. Big, muscular, macho but with a sense of humor. Strong baritone. Can double the Sheriff.

LUCY: 20s or early 30s. Beautiful, artless and trusting, but able to detect fraud and to stand up for herself. Strong mezzo mix or belt up to D.

HORACE: late 20s to early 40s. Clumsy, but arrogant and full of himself. Strong second tenor or high baritone. Can double the Limping Man.

SHERIFF: an authoritative man with tremendous whiskers. Can be doubled by the actor playing Luke.

DEACON TWADDLE: a bespectacled, cadaverous, prissy old man. Can be doubled by the actor playing Colonel Dupont.

LIMPING MAN: A young man with a wound. Can be doubled by the actor playing Horace.

About Allen Cohen

Allen Cohen has conducted or written dance music for six musicals on Broadway, and played keyboards or rehearsal piano for dozens of others; he has conducted off-Broadway, in regional theaters, and on tours around the United States and the world. His musical The Medicine Show was produced at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia; he contributed songs to the off-Broadway revue The Present Tense; and his children's show Letters from Einstein was selected by the Dramatists Guild Development Program. He has composed the music for two off-Broadway plays, four films, and dozens of radio and television commercials. Currently a board member of the League of Composers and a judge for The American Prize in music, he has received a Meet the Composer grant and many ASCAP awards, and his classical pieces for orchestra, solo instruments, chamber groups, and voice have been played around the world and recorded on commercial compact discs. A former member of both the ASCAP and BMI Musical Theatre Workshops, he has taught composition for musical theater in college classes and private lessons. He is the co-author of Writing Musical Theater (Palgrave Macmillan), and the author of Howard Hanson in Theory and Practice (Praeger/Greenwood) and the children's book That's So Funny I Forgot to Laugh! (Scholastic), which has sold more than half a million copies.


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