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Musical with music by Jerome Kern, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the novel 'Show Boat' by Edna Ferber. Directed by Harold Prince. Choreography by Susan Stroman
The London Premiere of Harold Prince's new Tony award winning New York production featuring a Broadway cast of over 50 actors, singers and dancers.
One of the greatest masterpieces in American musical history, now lavishly and lovingly recreated, comes to London for a limited engagement. The production is directed by Harold Prince (who has directed Phantom of the Opera, amongst many others) and choreographed by Susan Stroman (who's credits include Crazy For You - the West End production which was seen at the Prince Edward Theatre).
This highly acclaimed production is a new version of Show Boat incorporating elements from the musical's various scripts and film adaptations during the past 70 years. It had its world premiere in Toronto in 1993, and its Broadway premiere the following at the 1,900 seat Gershwin Theatre on 2 October 1994. The show won 17 major awards in New York including Tony Awards for Best Revival, Best Director, Best Choreography and Best Costumes. The production closed on 5 January 1997 after 951 performances.
Show Boat is considered to be an American masterpiece and a milestone in the history of musical theatre. Adapted by composer Jerome Kern and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II from Edna Ferber's sweeping novel, Show Boat's story spans four generations, musically encompasses gospel, opera, blues, ragtime and jazz, and takes us on a journey on the 'Cotton Blossom' from Natchez to Chicago and back again.
Oscar Hammerstein II has been quoted as saying 'Show Boat' was born big and it wants to stay that way' - and this lavishly mounted revival promises to be an epic production - the company has over 50 actors, 60 technicians, 500 costumes, 500 props and a 40ft long Cotton Blossom Floating Theatre!
This West End production is being mounted by the original creative team - Directed by Hal Prince, choreographed by Susan Stroman, set design by Eugene Lee, costume design by Florence Klotz, lighting design by Richard Pilbrow and sound by Martin Levan.
"The great American musical! Glorious and bold! A cast of more than sixty have allowed director Harold Prince, still the undisputed master of the Broadway musical, to put together a sweeping panorama that embraces four decades of American history, fashion and more" David Richards, The New York Times
PRINCE EDWARD Theatre, previewed 20 April, opened 28 April 1998, closed 19 September 1998
Extracts from the reviews:
"Over the next couple of months, a ridiculous number of major musicals are scheduled to open in London, culminating in Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-awaited Whistle Down the Wind. If any of the new shows comes close to matching this glorious revival of Show Boat, however, we will be able to count ourselves very lucky... Eugene Lee's designs for the Mississippi show boat are lavish and evocative, but they never threaten to make this a production where you leave whistling the scenery. But then, how could you, when the musical is packed with so many magnificently melodic songs that you seem to have known all your life even if you have never seen Show Boat before? They are beautifully sung here by a huge all-American cast, without any of the brassy over-amplification that spoils so many West End shows. As the wearily enduring Ol' Man River (a wonderfully haunting and resonant performance from Michel Bell) gives way to that lovely song of unconditional love Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man the show seems to enter a realm of pure pleasure. It is true that the narrative sometimes creaks a bit, and some of the leading performances could do with a touch more oomph, though there is terrific work from George Grizzard as the show boat's good-natured Cap'n Andy and Carole Shelley as his termagant of a wife. What Prince's superbly organised production continually captures, though, is the piece's beguiling mixture of entertainment and emotional depth. You are constantly made aware, for instance, of the injustice suffered by the black characters, who bear their lot with fortitude and amazing good humour. The scenes in which lives are ruined because of racial intolerance and the miscegenation laws remain brutally shocking, while the song Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun', at last restored to the show after originally being rejected because it was deemed too depressing, casts exceptionally dark shadows. This is also a show in which love hurts, and the performances of Terry Burrell as the half-caste showgirl Julie, and Teri Hansen as the sweet-voiced, loyally loving Magnolia piercingly capture the pain of abandonment. Show Boat is a genuine epic, ranging over 40 years and moving between the Mississippi and Chicago. Prince's staging achieves a truly poetic sense of the passing of time, with the help of almost cinematic scene changes and some superb choreography from Susan Stroman, especially in the final Charleston sequence which is a witty tour de force..." Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph
"...The production's handling of race is one of its indubitable successes. It's not just the power and dignity of the interpolated gestures, as when, during the rendition of "Ol' Man River", the black workers suddenly unite and pull down the backdrop of a cotton field as though in some collective dream of tearing through the social fabric of their oppression. It's a fact that Prince does not allow the discriminatory basis of white well-being to fade from view once Julie La Verne (excellent Terry Burrell) and husband have to vanish from the Cotton Blossom's acting company and (save for one scene) from the story, because of their mixed-race marriage... Prince has drawn material from all the many stage and film versions of Kern and Hammerstein's much revised show and has creamed off talent from the New York, Toronto and touring companies. Here problems arise. With actors hailing from these different quarters, some of the relationships don't feel very lived-in or textured. For example, in the great scene when George Grizzard's likeably henpecked Cap'n Andy rediscovers his estranged, down-on-her-luck daughter at the New Year ball, both are in embarrassing positions: he in the company of two floozies, she on the verge of fluffing the first night of a vital singing engagement before a rudely restive audience. As played by Grizzard, and Teri Hansen's Magnolia, the reunion feels too rushed and emotionally simplified. As for the version Prince has assembled, there are restorations that make strong dramatic sense, such as the brooding lament "Mis'ry's Comin' Around," which, as hauntingly sung by Gretha Boston's Ellie and chorus, fills the first act with dark foreboding... Not quite a seismic event even if once or twice you feel the earth begin to move." Paul Taylor, The Independent
"Forget that spectacularly sinking ship Titanic, converted into a multi-million dollar disaster movie and glamorous wreckage only last year. The alluring Show Boat of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, with its radical under-tow proves the ideal old-fashioned cruiser on which to embark for sheer nostalgic musical pleasure. Hal Prince's sumptuous production of the ancient tear-jerker arrives in London from Broadway, looking a touch cramped on the Prince Edward stage, but reminds you how the best popular musicals achieve the musical and dramatic excitement of really grand opera... It does more than reveal how the old Show Boat troupers - putting on their melodramas aboard - eventually lost out to the lure of silent movies on land. Based on Edna Ferber's novel this epic musical vividly conveys the professional and personal toll taken, the sacrifices required of those caught up in show business a century ago... Miss Burrell (Julie), who beautifully sings Can't Help Lovin' dat Man also achieves one of the evening's indelible high points in Billy, a lament for her lost love. In line with the musical's view of the showbusiness roundabout, Julie's forced departure from The Cotton Blossom players, and subsequent drifting down, gives the Captain's daughter, Magnolia, a chance to perform. And it's Magnolia's romantic and professional decline - after marriage and desertion by Gaylord the professional gambler - which is the prime theme, expressed in memorable music and song. Show Boat brightly sails into a vast, lost world of pleasure steamers upon the Mississippi, Chicago street life, night clubs and hotels, and the early twentieth century conveyed in song and dance. Designer Eugene Lee's appealing montage of blown-up photographs of the Mississippi, with almost cinematic dissolves and close-ups, sets sliding horizontally and vertically into view, gives the production a hurtling swiftness. And Harold Prince's production is all heat, urgency and momentum. The resounding bass choral voice of Michel Bell's Joe, singing of Ol' Man River, frames an action teeming with gusto. Teri Hansen's Magnolia, daughter to George Grizzard's bland Captain and Carole Shelley's sour-puss wife, comes across as primly winsome when she gives her heart and more to Hugh Panaro's top-hatted, cane-swinging homme fatale, Gaylord Ravenal. But the musical's dark, romantic finale, when Gaylord's returns after years of separation to see his singing daughter, glows with a sense of loss and might-have-been - despite the exuberance of the loose-limbed, loose-moral Charleston which follows on. This ice and marble critic was ravished." Nicholas de Jongh, The London Evening Standard
"We're always told that Show Boat changed the American musical, that it was the first to deal with adult issues such as raw and miscegenation. But until this fine production by Hal Prince came along, it always struck me as one of those works, like Romeo and Juliet, that falls apart in the second half. Prince, however, has solved the problems inherent in Oscar Hammerstein's book, based on the Edna Ferber novel, in two ways. First he emphasises the social context of the story so that the race issue doesn't disappear when Julie LaVerne is forced to leave Cap'n Andy's floating pleasure-craft because she has married a white man... But, as the story shifts to Chicago early in the century, Prince keeps before us the idea that white comfort depends on black toil: there's a telling moment when, as streamers fill the stage celebrating New Year 1900, Chicago's urban blacks clear the debris just as they would have done down on the Mississippi... Prince also bolsters the second half by treating it not just as a sad sequel to the first but as a panorama of American life. He gives us a kaleidoscopic montage of the years from 1900 to 1921 with characters appearing through the revolving doors of a Chicago hotel, responding to the changing fashions and dances... It is Jerome Kern's score that keeps the show alive as much as the story's epic breadth. Over the years the score has undergone as many additions and subtractions as a Verdi opera, but Prince restores one absolutely vital number: a sombre choric lament, Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun', sung by the black workers but implying that everyone on the riverboat is the victim of malign fate. Prince and his designer, Eugene Lee, are in fact the heroes of this production... Only some of the casting disappoints. Magnolia, Cap'n Andy's daughter, never really blossoms, and Gaylord Ravenal, the riverboat gambler she fatally marries, is nothing special. The real strength lies in Michael Bell's magnificent rendering, as Joe, of Ol'Man River, in Joel Blum's eccentric comedy as the show boat's vaudevillian vilian, and in George Grizzard's effortless timing as Cap'n Andy. It is, in fact, Grizzard's performance that holds this exuberant three-hour spectacle together." Michael Billington, The Guardian