By Martie Thompson
“Ol’ Man River … just keeps rollin’ along.” Throughout the 40-year time span covered by “Show Boat,” now being performed at Alhambra Theatre and Dining, the mighty Mississippi River plays a pivotal role. From the opening scene on the levee at Natchez on the Mississippi in 1887 to the final scene on the deck of the Cotton Blossom in 1927, the rolling river is always part of the show.
“Show Boat,” with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber. Lauded as a new genre in musical storytelling, it was first performed on Broadway in 1927 and has been performed twice previously at the Alhambra. The year 2017 marks the Alhambra’s 50th anniversary and with the theme of “looking back and looking forward,” “Show Boat,” directed by Alhambra veterans Tod Booth and Lisa Valdini, is an enjoyable addition to the line up.
The musical revolves around the traditional American entertainment venue, the river showboat. Part of the storyline involves a show within a show and the characters are mostly either members of the acting troupe, the captain of the riverboat Cotton Blossom and his family, or the boat’s staff.
Bill Galarno is well cast as jolly Captain Andy Hawks, owner of the Cotton Blossom and manager of the troupe. He and his wife Parthy, portrayed by Patti Eyler, have a dry wit about their relationship. Their daughter, Magnolia, is an ingenue played by Annabelle Fox. She falls in love with handsome gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Billy Clark Taylor) and much of the storyline follows their courtship and eventual marriage, over the objections of Magnolia’s mother. As time passes, the Ravenals experience the highs and lows of life that come with the uncertain income earned by Gaylord, which ultimately leads to their separation. But once a riverboat performer, always a riverboat performer; Magnolia eventually returns to the Cotton Blossom, this time with her young daughter Kim and reunites with her family — and Gaylord.
The music is the star of “Show Boat.” From the two best known songs, “Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” to lesser known ballads “Only Make Believe” and “You are the Love,” the entire cast shines. Comic relief is provided by Queenie (Cherry Hamlin), the cook on the Cotton Blossom and her husband, stevedore Joe (Peter M. Jackson), who reflect on their long-time relationship in their older years in “I Still Suits Me.”
But the highlight is the river — the Mississippi River, with its indifference and wisdom and unconcern about the world’s troubles. Stevedore Joe performs “Ol’ Man River” in the first act and reprises it two additional times throughout the play, to remind the audience like a one-man Greek chorus, that despite what is happening on stage, the river continues to roll along anyway. Jackson’s rich bass voice is so perfectly matched with this song that it is a treat to hear the song each and every time.
The Alhambra Theatre and Dining’s executive chef, Chef DeJuan Roy, as usual has designed a three-course plated meal to complement the action on the stage. From an appetizer of fried pickles, to entrees such as shrimp and salmon with grits or quail stuffed with Andouille sausage and cornbread, patrons are transported culinarily to the deep South. A choice of Mississippi Mud Pie or lemon cake with blueberry and raspberry truffle completes the dining experience.
“Show Boat” will be performed at Alhambra Theatre and Dining through April 2. Visit www.Alhambrajax.com for tickets or more information.
Photo courtesy Alhambra Theatre and Dining