Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Showboat"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Company Theatre's current production is the 1994 Harold Prince version of "Showboat" which combined the talents of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein. The original version opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances. Kern and Hammerstein felt that 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 of life on the Mississippi 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 named Cotton Blossom and a troubled riverboat gambler/actor named Gaylord Ravenal. Magnolia and Gaylord fall in love while acting on the showboat and eventually marry and move to Chicago. There are several subplots in the show including the repression and nobility of the black characters and their exclusion from the turn of the century society and racial prejudice against Magnolia's mulatto friend, the tragic Julie La Verne. Directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman cast topnotch performers who can sing, act and dance splendidly while musical director, Michael Joseph conducts an 18 piece orchestra, having taught this huge cast the multitude of songs with their intricate harmonies which soar up to the rafters. Company Theatre always does a fantastic job on huge epic musicals and this show is another feather in their cap with the comic and poignant moments handled perfectly, giving the audience a chance to laugh as well as move them to tears. It demonstrates what a well performed musical should be.

Zoe and Jordie block this enormous cast beautifully, creating picture post card moments throughout the show. The entire first act takes place on, at or near the gigantic two story showboat constructed by Bob Grazioso and his crew while backdrops and easily moved on set pieces are used in most of the second act. Michael does a fantastic job, making his orchestra and cast members sound like a New York show. His keen eye for harmonic balance in the singing of the musical numbers and the high quality of his musicians shines through. Sally Ashton Forrest choreographs so many different dances during the show including the cake walk, polka, charlestonm jitter bug and acrobatic ballet. ( The latter is performed by two young performers, Trevor Efinger and Scott Medwatz with incredible energy as they bound around the stage effortlessly.) She also has the entire chorus dancing in unison in numerous numbers, leaving the audience breathlessly at their prowess. Sally also runs the sound effects while Brittany White runs the light board, creating the mood for a riverboat in the levee at Natchez. The massive number of costumes which run from the 1880's to the flapper costumes of the 1920's are by Louise Christman, Mark Ewart and Ginny Raynor. Bravo to everyone who make this show into a musical masterpiece of Americana.

Kate deLima captures the innocence of Magnolia at the start of the show and makes the transition to the older more mature woman by the close of it. She is a pretty brunette who plays well with the other performers and gets to show her comic side in the melodrama scene where she is wooed by her beau then threatened by the villain who gets shot at by two crazy hillbillies.)Mark Ewart and Mark McClelland) Kate has wonderful chemistry with her leading man, Christian T. Potts. He makes a dashing, handsome rogue who captures the heart of this young woman by wooing her with "Make Believe" and later on in their relationship with the soaring "You Are Love" and "Why Do I Love You". His tenor voice is strong in these numbers but he moves the crowd to tears in the reprise of "Make Believe" when he realizes he must leave his young daughter, Kim played wonderfully by Zoara Christman. Christian and Katie move the crowd again at the close of the show when Gaylord and Magnolia finally reunite after their long separation. (Young Kim is played by two little girls at alternating performances, Mabel White and Maggie Rowe.) Grown up Kim is handled by Melanie Bernier, a recent graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy. She doesn't appear until the last scene of Act 2 but gets to strut her stuff in a huge dancing number called " Kim's Charleston".

The showstopping song, "Old Man River" is performed by Karl Hudson. His magnificent bass voice sends chills up your spine with its power and the applause he so richly deserves stops the show in its tracks. Karl's captivating delivery is astounding as is his portrayal of Joe. He and Dee Crawford as Queenie, his wife also capture the dignity and dedication to the showboat of these characters. Dee uses her powerful voice in several numbers including "Queenie's Ballyhoo" which becomes another energetic dance segment. Another chilling and powerful number cut from the original show and from the movie versions is called "Mis'ry's Comin' Around". It begins as a stunning solo by Tracy Silva who has one of the best voices around and escalates into a haunting gospel melody foretelling trouble coming the riverboat, It salutes the dignity and the pure talent of the black workers from 1887. Samantha brior Jones is fantastic as the tragic Julie. She gets a chance to show her acting chops in this role with her excellent Southern accent as well as her lovely voice. Samantha delivers the goods with the soulful "Can't Help Lovin That Man" and the torch number "Bill". Julie is betrayed by Pete (Mark McClelland) an evil cad who tells the sheriff, Julie is a mulatto married to a white man which was a crime in Mississippi. Emact award winning actor, Bill Stambaugh plays Steve Baker, Julie's husband who heroically stands by her and leaves town by defending her against the charge of miscegenation. (Bill usually plays the villain of the show but this time gets to play a good guy for a change.)

The massive role of Captain Andy is played by Dan Moore. He makes this loveable curmudgeon come to life with his strong acting abilities. Dan handles the comedy throughout most the show but has a tender scene with Magnolia in the "After the Ball" scene. His shrewish wife, Parthy Ann is played by Miki Joseph. She excels in this role of harridan who never stops complaining until 1927 when she finally lets her hair down when she dances the Charleston with Kim who is now a Broadway star as is Magnolia. The other two comic performers are John King and Kim Lynn Drake 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. Kim sings "Life Upon the Wicked Stage" with the girls and she and John sing "Goodbye My Lady Love", a song and dance number.( John gets to do a rubber legged dance in the second act that is a hoot.) Kudos to the sensational and exuberant dancing and singing chorus members, too. So for an excellent rendition of a classic musical, be sure to catch "Showboat" before it sails away. Tell them Tony sent you.

"Showboat" (29 July - 21 August)
30 Accord Park Drive, NORWELL MA
1(781) 871-2787

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide