Phenomenal casting, spectacular sights and sounds, Show Boat is simply wonderful.
Show Boat is a 1927 musical in two acts, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The story is based on Edna Ferber’s bestselling novel of the same name, the musical follows the lives and loves of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, owned by Captain Andy Hawks (Allan Corduner), spanning over forty years, from 1887 to 1927. It covers many themes including racial prejudice, tragic and enduring love, gambling, commitment and success. With classic toe tapping songs including “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”, “Make Believe” and “Ol’ Man River”, Show Boat is a delightfully entertaining musical with loveable characters including gambling addict Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Xavier, whose recent West End credits include The Pyjama Game at The Shaftesbury Theatre), Magnolia Hawks (Gina Beck, whose West End credits include Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables) and Julie LaVerne (Rebecca Trehearn, who I was fortunate enough to see in recent West End shows including City of Angels at Donmar Warehouse and Dogfight at Southwark Playhouse, and most recently as part of West End Switched Off at St James Theatre, London).
The show opens with a minimal stage set, giving very little away to the spectacular performance about to burst out of the stage. The Show Boat itself is impressive, and works wonderfully well in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. Until I went along to the dress rehearsal the previous week, I had not previously visited this now local theatre. The stage is designed so that regardless of where you sit in the auditorium, you have a spectacular view.
The story shows various romances, but my favourite pairing has to be Joe (Emmanuel Kojo) and Queenie (Sandra Marvin, again who I was fortunate to see a few times in City of Angels). Queenie is such a wonderfully warm character whom you cannot help but fall in love with. Emmanuel Kojo, has the most magnificent singing voice and I admit at one point he caused a single tear to roll down my cheek, but a tear big enough to fill an ocean!
Show Boat has been seen on multiple occasions in London’s West End. The original London production opened May 3, 1928, at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and featured among the cast, Cedric Hardwicke as Capt. Andy, Edith Day as Magnolia, Paul Robeson as Joe, and Alberta Hunter as Queenie. Other West End presentations include a July 1971 production at the Adelphi Theatre, which ran for 909 performances.
Show Boat may be a golden oldie in the wonderful world of musicals, but it most certainly is a goody – as older shows often are. There’s plenty of life left in the old (Show) Boat, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if this particular production was to tour after it’s run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre, or even have a West End revival in the New Year. From opening note to final bows, Show Boat delivers a toe tapping heart warming story of love, friendship and life on board the Show Boat.
Review by Lottie Davis-Browne
A Sheffield Theatres Production
Thu 10 December 2015 – Sat 23 January 2016
Running time: Approximately 2 hours 40 minutes (including 20 minute interval)