Theatre Mirror Reviews - "SHOWBOAT"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone



"SHOWBOAT"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone



Fiddlehead Theatre Company's current show at the Shubert Theatre is the 1994 Harold Prince version of "Showboat" which combined the talents of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. The original version opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances. Kern and Hammerstein felt that the Broadway musical theatre was suffering from a lack of depth and wanted to steer away from the fluffy musical comedies and melodramatic operettas it was accustomed to. They chose Edna Ferber's sprawling novel on life on the Mississippi River which dealt with unhappy marriages, miscegenation and racial prejudice. The story begins in 1887 and spans 50 years, dealing with the fortunes of an impressionable young woman named Magnolia Hawks, her father who owns a showboat called Cotton Blossom and a troubled riverboat gambler/actor named Gaylord Ravenal. Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love while acting on the showboat, eventually marry and move to Chicago. There are several subplots in the show including the repression of and the nobility of the black characters and their exclusion from the turn of the century social and racial prejudice against Magnolia's mulatto friend, the tragic Julie LaVerne. Directors Meg Foffonof and Stacey Stephens cast 50 topnotch performers who can sing, act and dance splendidly while musical director Charles Peltz conducts a 35 piece orchestra, having taught this cast the multitude of songs with their intricate harmonies which soar up to the rafters. Fiddlehead Theatre always does a terrific job with their musical presentations and this one is another feather in their cap with the comic and poignant elements handled beautifully, giving the audience a chance to laugh as well as move them to tears. It demonstrates what a well performed musical should be. Since there is so much tragedy in the show, Harold Prince kept the happy ending of Gaylord and Magnolia reuniting at the close of the show intact which brings more tears to the crowd's eyes. Bravo!

Meg and Stacey block this huge cast beautifully, creating many picture postcard moments along the way. They use veteran actress, Kathy St. George as the older Kim looking back on her family's life in 1954 when she silently introduces the characters during the overture when their musical themes are played. The entire first act takes place on, at or near the gigantic two story showboat constructed by Paul Tate deePoo. The showboat is also used by the character of Joe to comment on no matter what is going on in the country, the Mississippi just keeps on rolling along as he belts out "Old Man River." The second act takes place in and around Chicago. Charles does a fantastic job making his orchestra and cast members sound like a Broadway show. His keen eye for harmonic balance in the singing of the musical numbers and the high quality of his musicians shine through. Choreographer Wendy Hall's many dance numbers include the cake walk, the polka, the Charleston, the jitterbug and many others which the cast executes excellently. The massive amount of gorgeous costumes are by Stacey Stephens and they range from the 1880's to flapper costumes of the 1920's and are very impressive indeed. The stunning make up is by Broadway professional make up designer, Joe Dulude whom I have known since 1987 when we were in "Don't Drink the Water" for Community Players. Fantastic job in aging the characters in the second act.

The gorgeous Kim Corbett captures the innocence of Magnolia at the start of the show and makes the transition to the older more mature woman at the end of it. She is superb in this role and her majestic voice soars off the charts in her duets including my personal favorite "Only Make Believe", where she and Ravenal pretend they are in love, "I Have the Room Above Her" when they actually fall in love, "You Are Love" when they decide to get married and "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" reprise where as a mature woman changes the slow tempo to a flapper style of the '20's. Kim interacts wonderfully with the other performers in the show especially the warmth she feels for Julie and her antipathy to her hard shelled mother, Parthy who comes around near the end of the show because of the love of her granddaughter. Magnolia's comic side comes through in the melodrama scene where she is wooed by her beau then threatened by the villain who gets shot at by two crazy hillbillies. Kim also has a lot of chemistry with her leading man, Jeremiah James as Ravenal. He has a magnificent tenor voice with a strong upper register to it and is one of the best Ravenal's I have ever seen. Jeremiah makes a dashing, tall, dark and handsome rogue who captures the heart of this young woman by wooing her with "Only Make Believe" and "I Have the Room Above Her" and in their relationship with the soaring "You Are Love." He also sings the gambling song with the men called "Till Luck Comes My Way" but moves the audience to tears in the reprise of "Make Believe" when he realizes he must leave his daughter, Kim played wonderfully by Addie Swan and again in "You Are Love" when you think he has left without seeing Magnolia again in 1927. Jeremiah and Kim move the crowd to tears again at the close of the show when Gaylord and Magnolia finally reunite after a long separation. The grown up Kim is well played by Megan Yates who doesn't appear until the last scene of Act 2 but gets to strut her stuff in "Kim Charleston", a huge dance number that stops the show.

The show stopping song, "Old Man River" is brilliantly performed by Brian Kinnard as Joe. He has one of the most amazing basso profundo voices I have ever heard. His magnificent bass voice sends chills up your spine with its power. The applause he so richly deserves, stops the show in its tracks. The other men join in on the reprise of the song with five part harmony that is marvelous, too. Brian and Lindsay Roberts as Queenie, Joe's wife also capture the characters dignity and dedication to the showboat. Lindsay displays her powerhouse voice including "Queenie's Ballyhoo'' which becomes an energetic dance segment where Queenie tries to entice the black people to sit in the balcony to watch the show. Another chilling and powerful number cut from the original show and the movie versions is "Misery's Comin' Around" which starts as a solo for Lindsay and escalates into a haunting gospel melody foretelling trouble coming to the riverboat. It displays the dignity and pure talent of the black workers back in 1887. Sarah Hanlon is fantastic as the tragic, Julie. She displays her strong dramatic acting talent and lovely voice in this role. Sarah delivers the goods with the soulful "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" which turns into a big song and dance number and again in her torch song "Bill" which brings the house down. Julie is betrayed by an evil cad, Pete who tells the sheriff that Julie is a mulatto married to a white man which was a crime in Mississippi. Bryan Miner plays Julie's husband, Steve who heroically stands by her and leaves town with her defending her against the charge of miscegenation. Chris Pittman portrays the role of Pete to the hilt while Christopher King is splendid as the righteous sheriff who tries to arrest Ravenal and runs Julie and Steve off the Riverboat.

The massive role of Captain Andy is excellently played by John Davin. He brings this curmudgeon to life as Andy with his strong acting ability. John handles many comic moments during the show especially when he recaps the fight in the melodrama but finally has a tender scene with Magnolia in "After the Ball" scene. His shrewish wife, Parthy is played by the scene stealing Dawn Tucker who excels in the role of this harridan who never stops complaining until 1927 when she finally lets her hair down and dances with her granddaughter. Kim is now a Broadway star like Magnolia before her. Parthy has a brief respite as a harridan at the start of Act 2 when she sings "Why Do I Love You" to the baby which is a very sentimental thing for Parthy to do. Two other comic performers are Carl-Michael Ogle and Lindsey Sutton as Frank and Ellie Schultz. They do topnotch work in their roles, playing the dance team who always squabble with each other but end up married. Lindsey is a hoot as the comedienne who wants to play the lead but overacts on purpose. She sings and dances to "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" with the girls and she and Carl-Michael sing "Goodbye My Lady Love", a song and dance number. Kudos to the sensational and exuberant singing and dancing chorus members, too. So for a phenomenal rendition of this classic musical, be sure to catch "Showboat" by Fiddlehead Theatre Company at the beautiful Shubert Theatre in Boston before it sails away.

SHOWBOAT (22 June to 3 July)
Fiddlehead Theatre Company @ Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA
1(866)348-9738 or www.citicenter.org/showboat




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