Center Stage: ‘Show Boat’ swept away audience
From the moment the “Show Boat” Cotton Blossom dropped the gangplank at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre and Keith McCoy (Joe) sang the signature song “Ol Man River,” with his glorious voice that mighty Mississippi swept us up into “Show Boat’s” awesome magic.
No matter how many times I have seen this classic musical, I am always unprepared for the magnificence of Jerome Kern’s score and Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics and book. This was my third viewing of this musical and I’m still swept away by its enchantment. The incredible Kern score along with Hammerstein’s heart tugging lyrics and book adaptation remain treasures beyond estimation. When “OL’ Man River” ends, we are enraptured by “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” “Only Make Believe,” “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” and my all-time, tear jerking, favorite “You Are Love,” and those are only from Act 1. “Show Boat” was considered a landmark musical when produced by showman Frorenz Ziegfeld in 1927. Seeing this latest production affirms that “Show Boat” is and remains an epic work that time cannot tarnish.
The story line is quite simple and familiar; sheltered, innocent girl meets handsome, gambler, they fall in love, marry, have a baby, gambler tries to mend his ways, fails, gambler leaves not wanting to hurt his family; it ends “Happily ever after.” Regardless of simplistic plot, it is the sweeping music and emotionally passionate timeless lyrics that resonates with audiences, sweeping them up and enthralling them.
Kira Galindo plays the mulatto Julie La Verne, originally played by Helen Morgan in the 1927 version. Galindo’s Julie is a beautiful woman with a commanding stage presence and an equally powerful, smoky rich voice. Her versions of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill” are best described as heart wrenching.
Kayleen Seidl, in the female leading role of Magnolia, is another wonderful singer, with a soaring soprano voice that is pure, and sweet. This belle not only sings well, she’s got the acting chops to match. In the role of Gaylord Ravenal, a Mississippi riverboat gambler Jesse Dalton was at the top of his form, delivering the goods musically and dramatically. My one and only carp in this otherwise flawless production, was the costuming for Dalton playing the character of Ravenal, the knee high riding boots, the skin tight jacket, vest and britches along with the overly tall top hat, did little to help Dalton create the illusion of a dashing, slightly dangerous, riverboat gambler, we mentally envision. Nevertheless, Dalton succeeded by creating an entirely different sort of dynamic anti-hero.
Paul Crane’s Captain Andy Hawks drew belly laughs from the delighted audience as only Cap’n Andy can. M.L. Graham ‘s Parthy Ann Hawks (Cap’n Andy’s tough as nails wife) cannot hide her wry sense of humor, even when she plays a humorless shrew. She in a word, is delightful.
As Queenie- Shuga Henry is aptly named and is pure sugar in a stand out performance. Her hundred-watt smile and joyous belly laugh comes straight from the heart, making her acting ring true.
Sarah Cammarata and Tyler Brown, as the song and dance team of Ellie May Chipley and Frank Schultz were pleasing and funny in their vaudeville bits, sparkling in their dramatic roles adding richness to the show.
I could devote a whole review touting the brilliance of the ensemble cast; everyone shaped a recognizable character, thus adding to the lushness and enjoyment of “Show Boat.”
The imaginative dance numbers by Choreographer Kerry Lambert were fast paced, exciting and well danced. Especially effective was the rush of time done in a montage sequence where the music, movement and costume changes propelled the cast from World War I to the Roaring Twenties Jazz age. I must also credit the effective scenic designs by Robin McKercher, Lighting-Russell A. Thompson, Costumes- John P.White.
Direction by Dean Sobon honored the book and its commitment to the original script which deals with racism, miscegenation, marital abandonment; Sobon’s multiple cuts never detracted from the script. The original show ran three hours instead of two.
The finale, a reprise of “Ol’ Man River” brought the audience to its feet; a fitting tribute and salute to a first-rate classic American musical.
“Show Boat” docks at the Palm till Feb. 14, when it sails away. Now you sail over to the phone, call the box office at (239) 278-4422 and reserve your tickets. Remember tell ’em Marsha sent you.