This year’s Christmas production at Sheffield Theatres is Show Boat. Spanning 40 pivotal years in American history, this epic musical follows the lives and loves of three generations aboard a show boat as it plies the Mississippi River. One of the most romantic musicals of all time by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, this lavish new production is directed by Daniel Evans and features classics of musical theatre including Make Believe, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, and the landmark Ol’ Man River.
Emmanuel Kojo plays the role of Joe in Show Boat. His theatre work includes Kiss Me Kate (UK tour), Scottsboro Boys (Garrick Theatre) and Fame (Manchester Palace Theatre).
Emmanuel recently took time out to answer a few questions about the production.
What attracted you to be a part of Show Boat?
For me it was all about the history. I am very much attracted to pieces of work that have a message and a meaning. When I did Scottsboro Boys I was crazy about it because of all the history and the message behind it all, and also to give those boys who lived those stories the honest truth and honour that they deserve. This show tells the truth and that’s what matters. Sometimes people just aren’t willing to accept the truth and it’s brushed under a carpet. Show Boat tells you about real truth and the struggles of that era.
Also, Paul Robeson has always been an inspiration. He was a huge star but he was an activist and that is incredibly important to me. He knew what he stood for and he fought for what he stood for. That was what inspired me to find out about the man and in turn learn about the show. I learnt the song Ol’Man River at the age of 17.
It’s also a chance to work at the Crucible which is such a prestigious theatre and with an amazing creative team. It’s a show I have dreamed about being in since I started learning about theatre.
Can you tell us about the audition process?
My agent called me and said you have a casting for Show Boat at the Crucible. So I thought amazing! The part I was up for was one of the Backwoodsmen so I learnt the Scenes and went and sang my audition song. Before I went in, I had read something about Paul Robeson and how he pushed for the things he wanted and believed in – to play the character of Joe had always been a dream of mine so I said to myself if you don’t try, you’ll never know.
So when we got into the room I said that I had Ol’ Man River which is from the show and that I could sing that. But they asked me to sing my Lonely Room and after I finished that they asked me to sing Ol’ Man River. And then we did some scenes. It was just a very helpful and relaxed audition.
In the last round of auditions, I workshopped Ol’ Man River with Daniel Evans (Director) and David White (Musical Supervisor/Director). It was definitely one of the most enjoyable auditions of my career. I think this business is really about someone believing in you and giving you a chance and when I got the call I screamed down the phone to my agent for quite a while!
Do you have a set routine in learning your lines?
I read through everything a few times but what really helps me is I record myself reading my lines and then play it to myself before I go to bed and weirdly it just stays there in my brain. That’s my cheat for learning lines!
You play the part of Joe, what can you tell us about him and how he fits into the storyline?
The role of Joe is a real dream come true for me. He’s the type of man that I would like to grow into. He is self confident, has strong beliefs about what he wants to achieve and strongly believes in a better future for himself, Queenie and others alike. He is also very much a leader of men. As the show progresses he grows into a man who has seen a lot and is at peace with the world. I’m really enjoying the challenge of playing him and getting to know Joe better so I can do him justice.
Do you have a favourite song in the show?
I think all the songs are incredible but since I have known it the most and it speaks to me the most, it has to be Ol’ Man River. It’s a very powerful song about struggle, love, hope, fear and in a way a prayer. It’s a massive anthem for change and a better world.
What is at the heart of Show Boat?
Relationships are at the heart of Show Boat. The story shows five different relationships, their journeys and trials. It also tackles and deals with the issue of race. We live in a society where race is such a big issue, especially in America where things like this have been going on for decades. So I think Show Boat shares a painful but beautiful story but the music also speaks for itself. Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics set to Jerome Kern’s wonderful score is also a massive heartbeat of the show.
Why should everyone get along to see the show?
My question is why wouldn’t you? Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern’s score contains some of the best musical theatre songs ever written – beautiful melodies with a very strong message. We have a cast of superb West End performers including Michael Xavier, Sandra Marvin and Gina Beck as well as an incredible, internationally renowned creative team. Show Boat is going to be spectacular – but don’t take my word for it – come and see the show for yourselves and then tell me later what you thought!
Set against the backdrop of America’s Deep South at the turn of the 20th Century, Show Boat is a powerful story of love, loyalty and freedom. Be swept away by one of the most romantic musicals of all time in this lavish new production.
Directed by Daniel Evans (Anything Goes, My Fair Lady) and featuring soaring melodies including Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, this new production has all the splendour of a Hollywood classic.
A Sheffield Theatres Production
New London Theatre
Running Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Booking Until: 7th January 2017
Music by Jerome Kern
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the novel “Show Boat” by Edna Ferber
This show may be unsuitable for those aged under 12.