note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Sheila Barth
Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of beloved musical “Showboat,” currently appearing at the Shubert Theatre, is bigger than life, bolder than a brass band, and overflowing with opulence.
The almost three-hour extravaganza, running through July 3, is a must-see, not merely because of its fabulous 50-strong cast and melodic musicians, but mostly for its eye-popping, drop-dead gorgeous costumes, scrims, and set, including an ornate, two-deck riverboat on the Mississippi, thanks to set designer Paul Tate dePoo III. Kevan Loney’s projections sweep us along the river, to exciting landscapes and seascapes, bathed in Zach Blane’s dramatic lighting. Not enough for you yet? Then you must hear Brian Kinnard’s thundering bass voice, when he sings and reprises beloved song, “Old Man River,” throughout the show. His rich, deep voice resounds throughout the theater. As one person said after the show, it raised the hair on his arms and made his heart beat faster.
Portraying Joe’s woman, Queenie, Lindsay Roberts is also powerful, strutting and singing, especially in the show’s classic ensemble number, “Can’t Help Lovin‘ Dat Man (of Mine),” and “Queenie’s Ballyhoo”.
Lindsay Sutton portraying squeeky star wannabe, Ellie May Chipley, and Carl Michael-Ogle as Frank Schultz, Ellie’s ever-lovin’ sidekick-husband, lighten the play comedically with their shtick.
Speaking afterwards with Stacey Stephens, Fiddlehead’s co-director/associate producing artistic director, Stephens emphasized his and founding producing artistic director Meg Fofonoff’s goal was to clearly define the primary characters and “Showboat’s underlying theme of racism and miscegenation, (co-habitation between people of mixed races), which today’s younger generation may find almost impossible to believe.
And it works. Portraying affable Riverboat Cap’n Andy Hawks, award-winning actor John Davin performs some eye-opening acrobatic moves and keeps the comedy going in this sad tale of lost love and romance. Andy’s wife, Parthy Ann Hawks (Dawn Tucker) is a stuffy, prim, former Massachusetts native, who barks orders at her fun-loving husband -and everyone else.
The couple’s daughter, Magnolia, (Kim Corbett) loves being on the showboat, and is best friends with singer Julie LaVerne (Sarah Hanlon), who’s married to performing partner Steve Baker (Bryan Miner). Scandal erupts when Julie’s jealous suitor, surreptitious, sleazy Pete (Chris Pittman) discovers Julie is African-American, passing for white, and it’s against the law for the mixed-race couple to co-habitate in the state of Mississippi, forcing them to leave the showboat. Magnolia takes over Julie’s part in the stage show. However, the Hawks need a leading man, who happens to show up in the form of errant gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Jeremiah James).
Gaylord can’t hang around there, either. He was arrested for murdering a man, but the judge ruled it as self defense.No matter. Gaylord has to get out of town, and the showboat is an ideal pathway for him, especially after meeting the beautiful ‘Nola.
The couple falls in love at first sight, and their duet “You Are Love,” is anthemic. Unfortunately, their storybook romance ends unhappily.
Stephens, who also designed the sumptuous costumes, had quite a chore. The story spans several years, from late 1800s to 1930s and beyond. The cast sported outfits with bustles and huge bows, long waistcoats and tall beaver hats, to Gibson Girl propriety and outrageous flappers’ fringe and glitter.
Seated on the side of the stage, the inimitable Kathy St. George portrays older Kim Ravenal, in 1954, thumbing through her scrapbooks and photograph albums, flashing back to the story of her grandparents, parents, and her own meteoric rise to theatrical stardom. St. George’s faithful fans may be disappointed in seeing the versatile St. George subtly seated on the side, but not participating in the action, but she’s delighted with her role. By silently reacting on the sidelines, she adds volumes to the play’s highlights.