Musical with music by Jerome Kern, lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the novel by Edna Ferber. This landmark musical covers one of the most dramatic eras in American history and spans four decades to tell its panoramic, romantic story of the Cotton Blossom floating theatre, the Hawks family, and their show boat troupe of actors - a story so poignant and profound, it changed musical theatre forever. Includes a veritable treasure trove of unforgettable music, including Ol' Man River; Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man; You Are Love; Only Make Believe; and Bill. Since it first dazzled audiences on Broadway in 1927, its majestic score and powerful story ensured Show Boat's place as one of the greatest masterpiece's of the American musical theatre.
Oscar Hammerstein II said about writing this show with Jerome Kern that: "Attracted by its title, Jerome Kern bought a copy of Show Boat. Before he had read half of it, he asked Edna Ferber for the stage rights, asked me to collaborate with him and asked Ziegfeld if he would like to produce it. Within twenty-four hours we had all said yes to him... It is lucky we became so emotionally involved with Edna Ferber's characters, because love rendered us blind to all the dangers our friends saw in the undertaking. People seemed to go out of their way to discourage us. 'How do you expect to make a musical play out of that?' they would ask. And they would look sorry for us. We realized that the story made several bad breaks with musical comedy tradition, but this was the very thing that endeared it to us... Show Boat was born big and it wants to stay that way. It overflows with production opportunities that beckon showmanship. Like a feminine charmer who persuades gentlemen to buy her furs and jewels just because she would look so well in them, Show Boat says to you 'Build me a nice big, heavy boat - one with an upper deck, so that Magnolia can stand on it when she first sees Ravenal on the levee and sings Only Make Believe. Give me an auditorium scene inside the boat with a stoutly built balcony that will hold a lot of people.' Well, you might deny the play these luxuries, but who wants to? Who wants to be skimpy with costumes when the periods and the places and the occasions call for lavishness? The fact is that Ziegfeld's opulent production was just as essential as our words and music, and any new production must supply an equivalent to his contribution."
Original London West End Production 1928
Opened 3 May 1928, Closed 2 March 1929 at Drury Lane Theatre Royal
The original cast featured Alberta Hunter as 'Queenie', Viola Compton as 'Parthy Ann Hawks', Cedric Hardwicke as 'Cap'n Andy Hawks', Dorothy Lena as 'Ellie May Chipley', Leslie Sarony as 'Frank Schultz', Marie Burke as 'Julie La Verne', Howett Worster as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Percy Parsons as 'Sheriff Vallon', Edith Day as 'Magnolia Hawks' and Paul Robeson as 'Joe'. Directed by Felix Edwardes with choreography by Max Scheck, sets Joseph Harker and Phil Harker and costumes by Irene Segalla.
1st West End Revival 1943
Opened 17 April 1943, Closed 18 September 1943 at the Stoll Theatre (rebuilt as Peacock Theatre)
The cast featured Lucille Benstead as 'Queenie', Hester Paton Brown as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', Mark Daly as 'Cap'n Andy Hawkes', Sylvia Kellaway as 'Ellie May Chipley', Leslie Kellaway as 'Frank Schultz', Pat Taylor as 'Julie La Verne', Bruce Carfax as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Ralph Tovey as 'Sheriff Vallon', Gwyneth Lascelles as 'Magnolia Hawkes' and Mr Jetsam (Malcolm McEachern) as 'Joe'. Directed by Philip F Howley with choreography by Max Rivers, sets by James Needle and costumes by Charles H Fox. Performed two shows daily Monday to Saturday
2nd West End Revival 1971
Previewed 26 July 1971, Opened 29 July 1971, Closed 29 September 1973 at the Adelphi Theatre
The original cast featured Ena Cabayo as 'Queenie', Pearl Hackney as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', Derek Royle as 'Cap'n Andy Hawkes', Jan Hunt as 'Ellie May Chipley', Kenneth Nelson as 'Frank Schultz', Cleo Laine as 'Julie La Verne', Andre Jobin as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Michael Napier-Brown as 'Sheriff Vallon', Lorna Dallas as 'Magnolia Hawkes', Thomas Carey as 'Joe' and Miguel Godreau as 'Knife Thrower'. Directed and choreographed by Wendy Tove with dances by Miquel Godreau, designs by Tim Goodchild and lighting by Richard Pilbrow.
3rd West End Revival 1990 / 1991
Previewed 25 July 1990, Opened 1 August 1990, Closed 22 September 1990 at the London Palladium
Returned 13 March 1991, Closed 18 May 1991 at the London Palladium
Presented as a co-production between Opera North and the Royal Shakespeare Company. The original cast featured Karla Burns as 'Queenie', Margaret Courtenay as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', Geoffrey Hutchings as 'Cap'n Andy Hawkes', Janie Dee as 'Ellie May Chipley', Philip Gould as 'Frank Schultz', Sally Burgess / Marilyn Cutts as 'Julie La Verne', Peter Savidge / Richard Halton as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Clive Walton as 'Sheriff Vallon', Janis Kelly / Jan Hartley Morris as 'Magnolia Hawkes' and Bruce Hubbard as 'Joe'. Directed by Ian Judge with choreography by Lindsay Dolan, sets by Russell Craig, costumes by Alexander Reid and lighting by Robert Bryan.
4th West End Revival 1998
Previewed 20 April 1998, Opened 28 April 1998, Closed 19 September 1998 at the Prince Edward Theatre
Lavishly and lovingly recreated by 20-time Tony Award-winning director Harold Prince, and following its record breaking Broadway engagement, this glorious new Tony Award-winning production sails into London with an epic cast of 57 Broadway actors, singers and dancers.
The cast featured Gretha Boston as 'Queenie', Carole Shelley as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', George Grizzard as 'Cap'n Andy Hawkes', Clare Leach as 'Ellie May Chipley', Joel Blum as 'Frank Schultz', Terry Burrell as 'Julie La Verne', Hugh Panaro as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Brian Evers as 'Sheriff Vallon', Teri Hansen as 'Magnolia Hawkes' and Michel Bell as 'Joe'. Directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Susan Stroman, sets by Eugene Lee, costumes by Florence Klotz, lighting by Richard Pilbrow and sound by Martin Levan.
Tony Award-winning director of this revival, Hal Prince said: "The question I have been asked more frequently than any other since I began to work on this version of Jerome Kern's and Oscar Hammerstein II's masterpiece Show Boat, is why I would be interested, after all these years of directing new musicals, in mounting a revival. Well, the show is not just another American musical. First presented in 1927, it is the first great contemporary modern musical. The first to merge the traditional, happy-go-lucky naivete of Broadway musical comedy with serious themes. The first with a score ranging from light-hearted, popular thirty-two bar songs to nineteenth century operetta and grand opera. Undeniably, it is Jerome Kern's Porgy and Bess.
This version is culled from the original 1927 production, the subsequent 1928 London script, the 1946 Broadway revival and the 1936 film. It owes a great deal to the scholarship and boundless enthusiasm of two men: John McGlinn, who produced and recorded a version of all the music and lyrics written for Show Boat (annotating every major production), and Miles Kreuger who published his exegesis on Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical.
Here are some of the observations that I have made during the two and a half years of working on the production, not necessarily in order of their importance.
It is essentially a celebration of the family (the nuclear family, yes, but also the extended family), and it is a love affair with theatre people.
Ironically, the original version of the play seems to me more modern than the 1946 revival, which, while slick (in 1946 terms), lacked the sweep, historical punch of the original.
Some of the most beautiful material written by Kern and Hammerstein ("Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'") never saw the light of day because it was deemed too serious for its time.
Earlier productions have been hampered by limitations imposed by stagecraft. In this version the designer, Eugene Lee, and I have taken advantage of modern techniques to create montages which integrate a leap of years, restore serious incidents and clarify plot and character motivations. In the old days, musical theatre was restricted by the need for "in-one" shallow scenes in front of drops or curtains, while major scenery was changed upstage. Today, we can move more fluidly from full-stage set to full-stage set. We can employ motion picture techniques such as cross-fades, dissolves and even close-ups.
Further, we have chosen to replace the conventional and irrelevant second-act opener at the Chicago World's Fair, returning instead to our principal story. In 1927, and well into the 1950s, every musical opened its second-act with high energy entertainment, devoid of story content. (I am reminded of Too Darn Hot from Kiss Me, Kate or Steam Heat from The Pajama Game.) This may have been because audiences were still returning to their seats from the bar next door, or it may have been just a popular convention.
Prior to this production's opening in Toronto in the autumn of 1993, a minority within the city's black community expressed concern about a revival of Show Boat on the basis of alleged racism. Throughout preproduction and rehearsal, I was committed to eliminating any inadvertent stereotype in the original material, dialogue which may seem 'Uncle Tom' today. However, I was determined not to rewrite history. The fact that during the 45-year period depicted in our musical there were lynchings, imprisonment and forced labour of the blacks in the United States is irrefutable. Indeed the United States still cannot hold its head high with regard to racism. The creators of Show Boat were men and women of moral stature, particularly Oscar Hammerstein who time and time again (the subject of miscegenation was central to South Pacific twenty two years later) took fierce aim at prejudice in our society. 'You've Got to be Carefully Taught' are his words. Once our production was premiered in Toronto, the protesters' allegations were proven to be unfounded and the protests ended. I hope it is clear that Show Boat's creators (including, of course, this cast and creative team) share the deepest solidarity with those who have been victims of racism.
"Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II took Edna Ferber's 1926 epic about theatre folk on the Mississippi and made it the first musical with the plot, songs and subject-matter to withstand a revival today... No one is better suited to do epic theatre or a show about showbiz than 70-year-old New York director Hal Prince. His production of Show Boat opened in Toronto when he was a mere slip of man - back in 1993 - and arrives in London with five Tony awards... This revival has prestige stamped all over it. Prince is a master at handling crowds, and seamlessly staging and shaping scenes through lighting. Every moment carries extra details... Susan Stroman's choreography brings a scurry and attack to the smallest movements. And the cast is strong... But the hero of the night remains Jerome Kern. Not many shows leave you with half a dozen numbers to hum on the way home." The Independent on Sunday
"The old Cotton Blossom paddle-steamer may creak a little these days when it noses down the Mississippi and into Natchez, but considering it dates from 1927 the boat still puts on one heck of a show. Hal Prince's spectacular but traditional production of Showboat was a big hit in Toronto and on Broadway. Now it is moored for a season at London's Prince Edward Theatre; like Old Man River-the most famous song in a superb score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II-it just keeps rollin' along... There is an exquisite dance sequence that catapults the story through the early years of the century in Chicago before returning to the Cotton Blossom for the emotional finale. Some boat. Some show." The News of the World
The producer of this revival, Garth Drabinsky, said: "This show begins at the latter end of the 19th century but the second act takes place in the 20th century, up until 1927. What fascinated me was the fact that Hammerstein was so bold in confronting the ills of society, especially in the form of racism, at such a tender date in his career, if you will, and in the embryonic stages of musical theatre per se. So few people since then have had the courage to deal with social complexity and divisiveness in such a powerful way. I was fascinated to see that a century has gone by [since the beginnings of the show's story] and, guess what, things haven't changed too much. That's an interesting piece of reflection to take towards a new century... Reviving means nothing to me, restoration means everything. Taking a 1998 sensibility and availing myself of the technology of the day to re-examine brilliant musical scores and storytelling but with much more daring, if you will, to go deeper than the tentative approach to musical theatre that is still there. I don't believe you should pull punches. You should go for it when you have the opportunity to go for it... But storytelling to engage an audience can't just be a fairytale, can't always be a romantic moment between two sympathetic souls. If you have the ability to layer a work and if it has an historical context and you can investigate the politics and the sociology of the time, then I think you have the basis of a great evening of theatre."
Show Boat in London at the Prince Edward Theatre previewed from 20 April 1998, opened on 28 April 1998 and closed on 19 September 1998.
London Revival 2006
Previewed 10 June 2006, Opened 13 June 2005, Closed 25 June 2006 at the Royal Albert Hall
A fully staged version performed 'in-the-round' for a strictly limited run of 18 performances only featuring The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
The cast featured Angela Simpson as 'Queenie', Jenny Galloway as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', David Burt as 'Cap'n Andy Hawkes', Emma Dodd as 'Ellie May Chipley', Steve Elias as 'Frank Schultz', Rebecca Thornhill as 'Julie La Verne', John Owen Jones as 'Gaylord Ravenal', Steve Devereaux as 'Sheriff Vallon', Elena Shaddow as 'Magnolia Hawkes' and Mark Coles as 'Joe'. Directed by Francesca Zambello with choeography by Arthur Pita, sets by Peter J. Davison, costumes by Sue Wilmington, lighting by Andrew Bridge and Alistair Grant and sound by Bobby Aitken.
"In 1927, Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern's Show Boat was the first musical to have a proper story and developed characters. It was the first stage show to put black and white actors on stage as equals, the first to deal with serious subjects such as race, gambling, divorce, slavery and miscegenation, and the first to have an integrated score where the songs pushed the plot forward. In 1927, this was an astoundingly brave show... Jerome Kern was in a constant lather over whether he could hire good enough voices for his sublime music, and we can assume that the first production of Show Boat had the same shortcomings as the current one: that the principals have been hired for their singing, rather than their acting skills... But, oh, the songs. Some of the greatest songs ever written for the musical theatre - Why Do I Love You? , Only Make Believe, Ol' Man River, Bill, After The Ball, You Are Love, Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man - pour from the score in blessed abundance. The chance to hear them again, sung by fine voices, in the context of the show for which they were composed, should not be missed." The Daily Express
"Show Boat at the Royal Albert Hall is a Raymond Gubbay spectacular, with a cast of more than 70 and the full Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. These forces are masterfully organised, sometimes to great visual effect; but its director, Francesca Zambello, may have feared that even such a large cast might seem meagre in the vastness of the Albert Hall. For she has everyone running around in circles, dancing, fiddling with props, and generally acting too much... But the main parts are generally well played, the pathos of the story survives the hoopla, and Kern's glorious score is given the treatment it deserves. And if Mark Coles as the stevedore-philosopher Joe is curiously wooden, he has just the depth of voice required for 'Ol' Man River'." The Sunday Telegraph
"Peter J. Davison's design offers an enormous timber stage surrounded by water that supplies ample space for spectacle, and Francesca Zambello fills its with teeming life. Around the fringes of the central action, children scamper, workers tote bales of cotton, women wash clothes in the river. Yet much of the show drags, and the poor, echoey acoustic doesn't help. The proceedings are enlivened by Arthur Pita's choreography, taking its cue from Kern's rich, eclectic score to mix folk dance, cakewalk, rag and vaudeville, and a hard-working cast achieve some memorable moments... Best, though, is Elena Shaddow's Magnolia. With a light, pure voice superbly suited to the music's more operetta-like moments, she reprises Can't Help Lovin' That Man to heartbreaking effect, and suggests a relationship with John Owen Jones's smoothie gambler Gaylord that develops from wide-eyed fascination to true passion. If this Show Boat has sprung a few leaks, it's the performances that keep it afloat." The Times
Show Boat in London at the Royal Albert Hall opened on 10 June 2006 and closed on 25 June 2006.
5th West End Revival 2016
Previewed 9 April 2016, Opened 25 April 2016, Closed 27 August 2016 at the New London Theatre
The cast featured Sandra Marvin as 'Queenie', Lucy Briers as 'Parthy Ann Hawkes', Malcolm Sinclair as 'Captain Andy Hawks', Alex Young as 'Ellie May Chipley', Danny Collins as 'Frank Schultz', Rebecca Trehearn as 'Julie La Verne', Chris Peluso as 'Gaylord Ravenal', John Coates as 'Sheriff Vallon', Gina Beck as 'Magnolia Hawks', Emmanuel Kojo as 'Joe', Directed by Daniel Evans with choreography by Alistair David, designs by Lez Brotherson, video by Tim Reid, lighting by David Hersey and sound by Paul Groothuis.
This production transferred to the New London Theatre following an acclaimed run at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre over Christmas 2015 (previewed from 10 December 2015, opened 16 December 2015 and closed 23 January 2016). This version was originally produced by Goodspeed Musicals, adapted and directed by Rob Ruggiero.
When this production opened at the New London Theatre in April 2016, Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said "it's always a pleasure to welcome a classy production of a classic musical to the West End and director Daniel Evans has constructed just that in this triumphant transfer from the Sheffield Crucible... Donít miss this Boat." Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times decribed how "at the beginning of this joyous revival of the 1927 Kern and Hammerstein musical, the entire ensemble fills the stage. Then, subtly, they shift until they have separated into two groups - black and white. This small touch is typical of Daniel Evans' deft staging... Magnificent." Ann Treneman in The Times commented "The swelling and rich score is by Jerome Kern, the lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein. Daniel Evans, though, is the director who put the show into this Show Boat and, if you love musical theatre, you must go... The first half has several stand-out numbers ó and there are poignant moments where black and white characters dance together in Alistair David's high-kicking choreography ó but it is in the second act where it all really finds its groove. The energy that comes off the stage, keeping the Cotton Blossom riverboat powering on, is incredible." Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph highlighted that "Daniel Evans' superb revival of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1927 masterpiece boasts a brace of five-star notices - but then, so do a number of other shows in London... This is an evening that radiates not only immense talent across the board but also supreme confidence in its material." Neil Norman in The Daily Express wrote: "Premiered in 1927, it may be venerable but it hasn't dated a jot. Transferred from the Sheffield Crucible, Daniel Evans' production brings out all its best features without a theatrical facelift... The ensemble is near perfect and well choreographed by Alistair David who knows when to jettison excess baggage; no sequence outstays its welcome... An absolute joy from start to finish." Quentin Letts in The Daily Mail explained that "there are no established superstars in the Drury Lane run of Show Boat ó yet. But I suspect a few performers will make their names in this charming production, which has just come into town from Sheffield... Director Evans takes the action into the auditorium enough to accentuate the pleasure from the music. Jerome Kern so packs his second half with reprises that you have no alternative but to swing your ankle. Then comes that weepy ending, as the olí Mississippi again works its sentimental allure... This Show Boat could have a long and successful voyage."
Gina Beck's West End credits include playing the role of 'Christine Daať in Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty's Theatre 2008 and the role of 'Glinda', the Good Witch, in the Stephen Schwartz musical Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in 2011. Malcolm Sinclair's London credits include Richard Eyre's revival of Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms starring Rowan Atkinson at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2013; Michael Grandage's revival of Anton Chekhov's Ivanov starring Kenneth Branagh at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2008; and David Grindley's revival of Joe Orton's What The Butler Saw at the Criterion Theatre in 2005.
When this production opened at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in December 2015, prior to London, Jonathan Brown in The Independent explained that "Daniel Evans's joyous production of Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern's Mississippi masterpiece is of both serious quality and high integrity. Issues of race and exploitation daringly aired in the 1927 original are here confronted full on... The production captures the nuances of interracial relations aboard the Cotton Blossom with great skill." Sam Marlowe in The Times said "this sensational staging is satisfyingly gritty and sumptuously romantic, littered with broken hearts and ablaze with anger, its epic sweep anchored in intimate detail. And Kern's music, soaringly sung and played, is as rich and sweet as molasses... Alistair David's choreography pulsates with sweaty muscularity and sizzles with witty intricacy, from vaudevillian hoofing to a red-hot charleston. Every moment of the production is electrifyingly vivid... This is a production of pure exhilaration, brilliantly achieved and thrillingly vital. A triumph." Clare Brennan in The The Guardian highlighted how director Daniel Evans "swirls his cast around the wharf planks separating thrust stage from auditorium, he eddies them up and down the iron stairs from the light-bedecked boatís bridge, to deck, to backstage or galley Ė Lez Brotherstonís layered set making all things possible and Alistair Davidís choreography taking full advantage." Claire Allfree in The Daily Telegraph commented that Daniel Evans "has an assured reputation for copper-bottomed productions of classic musicals. But this revival of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's lesser-performed 1927 work is, even by his standards, something special... this is a terrific production, full of seamlessly integrated colour and detail. It is the kind of show that leaves you feeling choked, shivery and on an absolute high." Ian Shuttleworth in The Financial Times thought that "the highlight of Alistair David's choreography, the Act One wedding finale, involves a cakewalk by the black men in the company being interrupted by Sandra Marvin as the formidable Queenie, who insists that all colours and sexes join in together."
"It has a ravishing score and behind the scenes of this tale of floating theatre folk it has some unblinking content: alcoholism, inter-racial love and the abject conditions of the black Mississippi stevedores. Sandra Marvin's superb rendition of Queenie's song, Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun', injects an added note of foreboding. Her man Joe (Emmanuel Kojo in the old Paul Robeson part) gives an amazing undertow to Ol' Man River, the music swelling up from a band confined below decks... Mixing light comedy with emotional sincerity, matching strong women with weak men, this epic spanning half a century is as intimate as it is teary. A musical treat from beginning to end, itís also a personal triumph for director, Daniel Evans." The Mail on Sunday
"It has some classic songs, of course, but I'd always thought that Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's 1927 musical was a hokey, overlong melodrama that ran aground some time ago. Daniel Evans's trimmed, sweeping revival deftly avoids all rocks and forces a change of mind. His greatest achievement is to bring together a hugely talented company, who invest each moment with such feeling that time flies by... The women are ridiculously loyal to their men and the black characters are never given a story of their own. But those concerns dwindle when listening to Emmanuel Kojo's Joe digging into his boots for a thrilling rendition of Ol' Man River." The Sunday Times
"Based on Edna Ferberís epic novel, it tells the story of the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi showboat, her motley crew of white (and, crucially, one mixed-race) performers and black workers, as they grapple with personal demons and racial prejudice... Daniel Evansí production brings out the joy and poignancy of the songs and papers over the cracks in the book with consummate skill. It is greatly enhanced by Lez Brotherstonís elegant design and Alistair Davidís exuberant choreography. Gina Beck, Rebecca Trehearn, Sandra Marvin and Emmanuel Kojo stand out in an excellent cast." The Sunday Express
Show Boat in London at the New London Theatre previewed from 9 April 2016, opened on 25 April 2016 and closed on 27 August 2016.