An American Masterpiece Gets a Full Production in San Francisco
If you are to purchase only one more DVD this year, make it “Show Boat” on the EuroArts label! Having seen but forgotten the details of the telecast of this monumental musical by the Paper Mill Playhouse many years ago, I had only the two film versions to go by and the complete EMI recording on CDs.
It is said that when the opening night performance ended in 1927, the audience was stunned. But after reading the reviews, the public lined up to see this totally new concept in musicals that had a serious plot, race relations, racial epithets never spoken in a Broadway musical before, and even a hero who deserts his family.
But now the San Francisco Opera has videoed its recent production of “Show Boat,” with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Jerome Kern. This is the video closest to the original 1927 version, except for some (welcome) cutting in the dialogue. As conductor John DeMain explains in a brief interview, the original dialogue revealed too much of what the following song would do. And he reinstated two songs that I have never heard except on the CD set.
Yes, most of us can name “Ol’ man river,” “Bill,” “Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine,” “You are love,” “Make believe,” and even “Life upon the wicked stage.” But you will be as surprised as I was with the songs that are never included in “highlight” recordings nor done in the films.
The cast is a strong one with Heidi Stober (Magnolia), Michael Todd Simpson (Gaylord), Bill Irwin (Captain Andy), Morris Robinson (Joe), Angela Renee (Queenie), Kirsten Wyatt (Ellie May), and John Bolton (Frank). A special treat is Patricia Racette, seen on the Metropolitan Opera Stage, as Julie. Harriet Harris, in the speaking part of Parthy, is too shrill in her dialogue; and Wyatt’s squeaky voice becomes tiresome at times.
The scenery is not meant to be realistic and this helps the many scene changes considerably. The choreography under Michele Lynch is fabulous, the chorus work under Ian Robertson is excellent, and the entire production is a credit to director Francesca Zambello. My only real complaint is that Gaylord does not get a single gray hair over all the years. Oh, well.
Good for EuroArts for giving subtitles to both lyrics and dialogue. The entire 144 minutes of the production are on a single DVD, while a second disc holds a tiny 33 minutes of interviews. But for once, they are worthwhile. After all, “Show Boat” is not your run of the mill musical.