Reviewed and written By Jay Horne
Show Boat was a 1927 musical, with music by Jerome Kern and book/lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on Edna Ferber’s best-selling novel of the same name, the musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat.
The show opened on Broadway on December 27, 1927, at the Ziegfeld Theatre. Critics were immediately enthusiastic, and the show ran for a year and a half with a grand total of 572 performances. Awards for Broadway shows didn’t exist in 1927, though late 20th century revivals of Show Boat have won both the Tony Award for “Best Revival of a Musical” (1995) and the Lawrence Olivier Award for the same in 1991. There was also a 1951 MGM Film, and the musical also played in London’s West End in 1928.
Before we get into the review of this great classical show, I would like to share with you some thoughts by Director James Christian to help put the show in perspective. He comments:
“Prior to Show Boat, the American musical theatre was an amalgam of minstrels, burlesque, vaudeville, extravaganza, and light-hearted, fluffy romantic comedies. With Show Boat, the American musical theatre changed forever. The creators of Show Boat addressed topics that previously had gone unaddressed on the musical stage. Issues of racism, gambling, desertion, alcoholism, and single motherhood were incorporated into the storyline – and the 1920s audience embraced them wholeheartedly. The Roaring 20s were a time of immense change in the United States. With the victory in WWI, women’s suffrage, prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance, the advent of the Jazz Age, and a multitude of other influences, society was experiencing an upheaval in attitudes and behaviors that paved the way for new directions in the theatre.
People were ready to engage the challenging new ideas and invest in leading characters who were flawed, but striving to move forward and make the best of their situations. Part of the genius of this production is that it draws from all the previous musical theatre influences: minstrelsy, burlesque, vaudeville, and extravaganza. What results is a landmark piece that will speak to generation after generation.
It’s a pleasure to share this stellar work with you all.” (James Christian – Director)
It was a happy audience that attended in anticipation of this very classic production of Show Boat. They cheered and applauded enthusiastically at every scene and musical number.
To start, as the curtain parted you saw dockhands awaiting the arrival of the Cotton Blossom, the titular show boat. The sets, comprised of the boat (of course) as well as the gambling joints, night clubs, and many other scenes, were all put in place by cast members to perfection. As the story progresses, we follow a period from 1887 on The Cotton Blossom, to 1893-1927 Chicago, and back to the show boat. The story covers the lives of the people involved with the show boat, and what occurs in the forty year stretch is something for you, the audience, to be a part of. Characterization-wise, all mostly had southern dialects with the exception of the Chicago crowd, of course, and were performed to absolute perfection.
The costuming was outstanding, as well as the choreography and the makeup and acting used to age the characters.
This entire cast’s characterizations were most believable, and in perfect sync with each other. The musical numbers featured some of the most memorable songs of that era, such as show-stopping numbers like “Old Man River”, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man (of Mine)”, “You Are Love”, “Goodbye My Lady Love”, and nineteen other songs that help the story along and six reprises – all lively music.
The vocals of the cast were backed up in the pit by Conductor Josh D. Smith, and seven superb musicians, featuring keyboards, bass, percussion, violin, trumpet, trombone, and reeds. Adding to the percussion and the entertainment, there were some very good tap-dancing numbers.
Let’s take a minute for me to recognize some of the outstanding contributors to this most enjoyable show.
Mary Tumey – Cap’n Andy: Welcome to ABT, very good and enjoyable character, good job.
Gerri Weagraff – Parthy Ann Hawks: Terrific performance as the frustrated and sometimes understanding wife.
Lauren Paley – Ellie May: Welcome back. Loved your character, as well as your song with Frank, “Goodbye My Lady Love”, great job.
Jamie Parnell – Gaylord Ravenal: Outstanding character and vocalization. A most hearty welcome back to ABT.
Brittany Santos –Magnolia Hawks: Welcome back! Great character, fantastic vocalization, especially with “Why Do I Love You” with Ravenal.
Tyler Pirrung – Frank Shultz: Welcome back. Very believable character, I enjoyed “Goodbye My Lady Love” very much.
Earl Hazell – Joe: Welcome to ABT! Not only was your rendition of “Ol’ Man River” one of the best I have heard, but your unbelievable great characterization was a pleasure to watch. Thank you!
Lacy Sauter – Julie Laverne: Welcome back. A most believable character, loved your song “Bill.” Great voice.
Anne–Lise Koyabe / Queenie: Very good character. Enjoyed your part in “Mis’ry’s Comin Around.”
Shaunice Alexander, Blair Beasley and Juliana Desai-Parsons (Stevedore’s Gals): Very Good supporting Characters, thank you.
James Christian – Director / Choreographer: Welcome to ABT – congratulations on an outstanding job in bringing this cast to its wonderful fruition.
Lottie Dixon – Costume Design: Great job, this was the best overall costumes I’ve seen for a period play!
Douglas Clarke – Scenic Designs: Another outstanding design once more, congratulations.
Josh D. Smith – Music Director: Great musical support by you and your seven musicians in the pit.
Kiel and Cassandra Klaphake: Once more an outstanding selection of this classic musical, and a most professional selection of this great cast.
In a Director’s Viewpoint, Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production of Show Boat was a most enjoyable and mesmerizing performance. In every aspect of musical theatre, they brought to exhilarating life, this very iconic musical. I highly recommend to all adults, younger and older, to make this a not-to-miss show! You won’t regret it!
In closing, I say, “Good night, Vivian. My Love.”
REVIEWED: Opening night, Friday, January 12, 2018
WHEN: Now through February 10, 2018
WHERE: Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria, AZ 85382
TICKETS: $65+, including dinner & $45+, show only (subject to demand pricing)
DETAILS/TICKET RESERVATIONS: For information, call the box office at 623-776-8400 or visit AZBroadway.org.