Saturday, 16 August 2014

Showboat, Aug 16, 2014 ****

Music by Jerome Kern; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; based on novel by Edna Ferber
By the Production Company
State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, Aug 16 to 24, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Full review also published in Herald Sun online on Monday Aug 18 and later in print. KH

Showboat - Alinta Chidzey and Gareth Keegan; pic Jeff Busby

Show Boat may have hit the musical theatre stage in 1927 but it echoes compelling, 21st century issues including racial intolerance, family breakdown and the desire for fame and a quick buck.

It features some of the most memorable and singable tunes by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, but Show Boat also broke boundaries by successfully weaving serious themes into a perky, musical theatre spectacle.

The story spans the years of 1887 to 1927 and tracks the lives of the Hawks family, owners of the Mississippi show boat, Cotton Blossom, and its performers, stage hands and dock workers.

The vivid, cheerful veneer of this floating world of melodrama and music hall acts, masks an underbelly of prejudice and doomed love.

This production, directed deftly by Roger Hodgman, uses a pared down version of Show Boat that effectively narrows the breadth of the original, expansive show.

The result is a taut, captivating production with accomplished and versatile leads, a balance of operatic and musical theatre voices, sassy choreography (Dana Jolly), a nimble orchestra and tight musical direction (Kellie Dickerson).

Perhaps the most recognisable tune in Show Boat is Ol’ Man River, made famous by Paul Robeson, and Eddie Muliaumaseali’i, as Joe, delivers it with his rich, velvety bass and the stevedores’ accompanying harmonies are sublime.

In the story, the Mississippi River is a background character that keeps on rollin’ along without a care for the passing years or the waxing and waning fortunes of the Showboaters.

Alinta Chidzey glows as young Magnolia and her bright vocal tone is perfect for her sweetly romantic duet, Only Make Believe, with the rakish gambler, Ravenal, played by the dapper Gareth Keegan.

Christina O’Neill is emotional and sympathetic as the mixed race singer, Julie LaVerne, and she sings Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man with playful joy that contrasts with her later, moving rendition of Bill.

Philip Gould is relentlessly cheerful and tolerant as Cap’n Andy Hawks, a comic contrast to his carping wife, Parthy Ann, played with relish by Judith Roberts.

Glenn Hill shines as the goofy, singing-dancing vaudevillian, Frank Schultz, while Nicole Melloy is a fine comic foil as his dance partner, Ellie May Chipley.

The portentous tune, Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’, sung poignantly by Heru Pinkasova as Queenie with the other servant ‘gals’, signals the emotional disasters to come.

Despite its narrative about abandoned wives, profligate gambling, poverty and bigotry, Show Boat is a joyful and moving show with a bittersweet ending and it deserves its proud place in musical theatre history.

Kate Herbert
Show Boat - Eddie Muliaumaseali-i with chorus; pic Jeff Busby

Showboat - Christina O'Neill_pic Jeff Busby
Alinta Chidzey - Magnolia Hawks
Gareth Keegan -Gaylord Ravenal
Christina O’Neill -Julie LaVerne
Eddie Muliaumaseali’i -Joe
Philip Gould -Cap'n Andy Hawks
Heru Pinkasova -Queenie
Nicole Melloy -Ellie May Chipley
Glenn Hill -Frank Schultz
Judith Roberts -Parthy Ann Hawks

Creative team
Roger Hodgman - Director
Kellie Dickerson -Musical Director
Dana Jolly- Choreographer
Set Designer - Christina Smith
Costume Designer - Isaac Lummis
Lighting Designer - Matt Scott

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