Show Boat

July 1, 2016

in Musicals, Plays

Musical (1927)
Music by Jerome Kern
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Directed by Meg Fofonoff and Stacey Stephens
Choreography: Wendy Hall; Music Direction: Charles Peltz

Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Shubert Theater / Citi Performing Arts Center, Theater District, Boston

June 22 – July 3, 2016

With Kathy St. George (Kim),Bryan Miner (Steve Baker), Lindsay Roberts (Queenie), Chris Pittman (Pete), Dawn Tucker (Parthy Ann Hawks), Richard Gabriel Wayne (Windy), John Davin (Cap’n Andy Hawks), Lindsay Sutton (Ellie May Chipley), Carl-Michael Ogle (Frank Schultz), Sarah Hanlon (Julie LaVerne), Jeremiah James (Gaylord Ravenal), Chris Adam King (Vallon), Kim Corbett (Magnolia Hawks), Brian Kinnard (Joe), Addie Swan (Kim,1899), Megan Yates (Kim, 1927), and The Show Boat ensemble

Brian Kinnard as Joe, Lindsay Roberts as Queenie in 'Show Boat'

Brian Kinnard as Joe
Lindsay Roberts as Queenie
in “Show Boat”
Photo: Roberto Araujo
Courtesy of Fiddlehead Theatre Company

A superlative production of the early twentieth century classic about life and love among riverboat entertainers.

The outward story is about Magnolia Hawks (Kim Corbett), daughter of Cap’n Andy (John Davin) and Parthy Hawks (Dawn Tucker), who falls in love with Gaylord Ravenal Jeremiah James), a charming gambler. Their story, through the years, is the focus of the narrative, but interleaved with it is a tale about racism, focusing on Julie LaVerne (Sarah Hanlon), who looks white but is actually half-black. The book on which the musical is based was written by Edna Ferber who had done some significant field work on such a show boat. She was quite surprised to find that her book might become a musical since she’d never had the slightest intention of that. (Ditto, I imagine, for Ron Chernow, whose biography of Alexander Hamilton, written in 2004, unwittingly became the inspiration for the wildly successful musical now on Broadway.)

This superb production is excellent in very many ways which all contribute to the sense of a work that, though almost a century old, does not seem dated.

The music by Jerome Kern is, of course, first-rate. The show contains multiple timeless classics, including Old Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, and You Are Love, but also a tremendous score that, through the less well-known songs, is strong and interesting. The lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein range from immortal to charming – they bear Hammerstein’s stamp of subtle wit and rhyme without forcing it too directly in one’s face.

Though the singing is very good all around, a couple of voices stand out in particular. Jeremiah James, who plays Gaylord Ravenal, has a beautiful and compelling tenor, distinctively charming with an impressive range. Sarah Hanlon, who plays the embattled Julie LaVerne, also has a strikingly rich contralto. Brian Kinnard, who plays Joe, gives a resonant account of Old Man River. Lindsay Roberts, who plays Queenie, has a robust tone and a capacity for delivering a tune with liveliness and verve.

As Magnolia, Kim Corbett, offers a soprano that grows as the evening goes along, her voice at first a bit tight, but loosening and filling out later on.

Original 1927 sheet music for 'Ol' Man River' from 'Show Boat'

Original 1927 sheet music for “Ol’ Man River”
from “Show Boat”

From the acting end, John Davin, as Cap’n Andy, does a great job, providing the humor, the antics and the required degree of wisdom and feeling to this central role. He lights up the stage whenever he’s on it and conveys the heart and soul of the musical beautifully. As his wife, Parthy, Dawn Tucker does a fine job of putting in overtime as the nag until she gets to shine out of it at the end.

When Megan Yates finally gets sprung on stage as the mature Kim, daughter of Magnolia and Gaylord, she packs a total punch doing a energetic and wild number with the company.

The young kid who plays the young Kim, Addie Swan, is a wonderful dancer and gets to show her exquisitely effervescent and accomplished moves on a couple of occasions.

The company is excellent all around and is supported by superb choreography by Wendy Hall. All the dances are beautifully conceived and the staging and movements are wonderfully varied and expertly conceived.

The orchestra plays the tuneful but at times somewhat challenging score with clarity and poise.

– BADMan

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