‘Show Boat’ is set between 1857-1927 and is set largely on the Cotton Blossom show boat where we’re accustomed to the boat’s proprietor, Captain Andy Hawks (Malcolm Sinclair) where segregation has been enforced by Jim Crow. But there is a bit of trouble on the boat where a fist fight breaks out between engineer, Pete (Ryan Pigden) and performer Steve whilst on stage as Pete has been making advances towards Steve’s wife; as such, Captain Andy deludes the crowd that it is a melodramatic preview. Riverboat crapshooter, Gaylord Ravenal appears and instantly becomes besotted with 18 year old, Magnolia Hawks, a hopeful performer who is the daughter of Captain Andy and his wife Pathenia Ann (Lucy Briers), as well as, Magnolia likes Gaylord too and asks Joe (Emmanuel Kojo), the black dock worker on the boat for advice. He specifies that there are plenty more fish in the sea and when she tell Julie La Verne (Rebecca Trehearn) about it and like Joe, Julie says the exact same thing. She says that it is not easy to prevent love from occurring and states that she’ll always be in love with her husband, Steve Baker (Leo Roberts) and when Julie sings a familiar black song, Queenie (Sandra Marvin), Joe’s wife is surprised that a “white” person would know the song completely. Over the course of the performance, Gaylord has taken over Steve’s part as he and his wife, Julie have to run away to the Northern states of the USA as the town’s sheriff knows that Julie is in fact mixed-race, but you wouldn’t know it though. From this, Gaylord and Magnolia, now performing the role that Julie plays have proven to be a hit with audiences and because of their undying love, he proposes to her despite Magnolia’s mother’s objections, however, we soon learn that Gaylord is a murderer, but has never been charged for his crime, yet the nuptials go ahead anyways and it’s a lovely moment to see blacks and white uniting. The years flow on by and Magnolia and Gaylord are residing in Chicago with enough money and have a child who is being schooled in a private school, unfortunately with Gaylord’s frequent gambling means he has lost all of his money and runs away from his responsibilities as a father and a husband. In essence, Magnolia, now strapped for cash to live on is reunited with Steve and Julie where they persuade a club manager to offer Magnolia a job and luckily enough he does so. Whilst performing one night, she is perplexed when her father is at the club and thankfully with his support the audience soon changes their reactions from jeers to cheers and due to this; she becomes a big star in the club and cabaret circuit. At the finale, Magnolia and daughter Kim (Christina Bennington) are back on the Cotton Blossom in a slightly frail state and when Gaylord returns to her life is re-introduced to Kim who seems to have been affected from the lack of a father figure, yet after a lovely embrace of a hug, a lot of issues have been resolved. Hammerstein II’s narrative and lyrics with Jerome Kern’s music is unparalleled as it is a rather political and social statement about segregating blacks and whites away from each other is despicable and how those determined to gain superstardom could have their dreams to tumble down. Moreover, with musical numbers like, “Only Make Believe”, “Ol’ Man River”, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Til Good Luck Come Mighty” they capture the spirt of the whole thing.
One found the performances by the company of, ‘Show Boat’ to be remarkable as the vocals and executions of the dance sequences were faultless by such an energetic and impressive ensemble that were increasingly comprehensive. Gina Beck is outstanding as Magnolia Hawks; predominantly how we see that for someone bombarded by showbiz for the most part of her life shows that she is desperate for fame and fortune. On the other hand, because of Gaylord’s rejection as he’s run out on her, her life is falling to pieces and her vocals in “Why Do I Love You?” is a rather painful insight into her poor life. Chris Peluso is wonderful as gambling addict, Gaylord Ravenal; exclusively how one small glint in the eye could lead to him becoming instantaneously attracted to this woman who then becomes his wife, nonetheless, we are not overwhelmed when he decides to leave his family to fend for themselves and his singing in “You Are Love” is smouldering as he realises that he made a mistake in rejecting his wife and daughter as they did nothing to warrant that.
Daniel Evans’ direction is superlative here as he has been able to present an extremely powerful revival of a musical that enables you to fully get into the groove of the performance and with Alistair David’s choreography I was immediately transported back to a time where black and whites were not allowed to be in communication with one another, paradoxically not on the Cotton Blossom where everyone practically gets on with each other. Les Brotherston’s set and costume designs is gorgeous as there is such an in-depth attention to detail in capturing the actual mood of the Cotton Blossom and Chicago where the scenic art and construction by Rocket Scenery was as beautiful as you would expect, also the costumes cannot be criticised either and Paul Groothuis’ sound design and David Hersey’s lighting design finished off a prefect design. Overall, the experience of, ‘Show Boat’ to be a resounding success and it is time for West End theatre shows to re-think their ticket options especially for younger audiences who could straightforwardly fill the empty seats no matter what.