When it was first presented in 1927, Show Boat changed the face of American musical theater by combining the elements of acting, song, and dance to tell a cohesive story. And now Signature Theatre’s reinterpretation – with its reduced cast, 15-piece orchestra, and cozy set – could allow smaller theaters across the nation to present this play to a new generation of theater-goers.
Telling the story of three generations of show people working the Mississippi River, Show Boat explores love’s triumphs and tragedies as well as race tensions at the turn of the century.
Will Gartshore gave a great performance as Gaylord Ravenal, the suave riverboat gambler who falls in love with Magnolia, played by Stephanie Waters, and their chemistry was best during the number You Are Love. Harry Winter’s portrayal of Cap’n Andy who owns the show boat kept the play grounded with heart and humor. His role as emcee of the Villain’s Dance was one of the highlights of the play. Kimberly Schraf plays Cap’n Andy’s wife, Parthy, all piss and vinegar at first, but who mellows at the end.
VaShawn McIlwain as Joe and Delores King Williams as Queenie played their roles with steadiness and common sense. Their interpretation of Ol’ Man River and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man of Mine were very well done. The new orchestration also restored Mis’ry Comin’ Aroun’. Terry Burrell’s portrayal of Julie was genuine and moving, especially her final number Bill. And Julie’s loyal and loving husband Steve is played by Jim Newman.
Also noteworthy were Bobby Smith and Sandy Bainum who played riverboat hoofers Frank and Ellie. Each of their scenes were spot-on and their final cakewalk number Goodbye My Lady Love was pure enjoyment.
Choreographer Karma Camp was determined to reinterpret the dance sequences, avoiding at all costs “looking like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” She focused instead on getting back in touch with the roots of the dances and individual dancers. “We’re doing it Signature-style – we’re focusing on the story and everybody’s an individual and brings something to the table.”
Special guests on Tuesday night included Julie Gilbert, the great niece of Edna Ferber who wrote the book the play is based on, and Alice Hammerstein Mathias, the daughter of Oscar Hammerstein II, who wrote the play and the lyrics.