Show Boat


An American Masterpiece Gets a Full Production in San Francisco

A-Show BoatIf 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.

IMG_20150726_0001_NEWBut 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.

Patricia Racette as Julie, the role created by Helen Morgan

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.

raw_file_urlGood 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.







A Fashionable “Roberta” is Now on CD

A-Roberta   Gershwin was genius of American composers of popular music, Berlin was the most prolific. Jerome Kern comes in third (I believe), with one foot in the European operetta tradition and the other in the Broadway musical. His 1933 musical “Roberta” is a good example. It ran 295 performances and was made into film versions in 1935 with the same title but with changes and in 1952 as “Lovely to Look At” with even more changes. While there are several recordings of excerpts from “Roberta,” New World Records has released a two-CD set that tries to get as close to the original version as possible.

Jerome Kern

The problem stems from all the usual changes that were made after opening night. The popular “Lovely to Look At” was added to the 1935 film, but many people believe (as I did for many a year) that this song was always in the show. Also, “Don’t Ask Me Not to Sing,” written for and dropped from “The Three Sisters,” was added to “Roberta,” because it fit Bob Hope’s style. (Even several of his ad libs were added to the dialogue.) And this is only part of the problem of faithful restoration of a vintage musical.

As for the recording itself, it has just enough dialogue to keep continuity of plot, all the dialogue that is underscored (and occasionally nearly drowned out by the music), and all of the songs that started as or became part of the original run. Several additional songs and variant versions are kept as bonus tracks. The Orchestra of Ireland is conducted by Rob Berman.

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Kim Criswell

The lead singers are Annalene Beechy, Kim Criswell, Patrick Cummings, Jason Graaf, and Diana Montague. The mostly young-sounding voices are appropriate to the corny scenario in the dialogue and in the vocals. The plot, in brief, is about the passing of the firm, Gowns by Roberta, to a young man and the show he creates to sell the line. The actual show is left to the listeners’ imaginations on a CD but the music is both lovely in spots and uses popular songs of the day in others.

The two big songs show Kern at his best. “Yesterdays” could be transferred to an operetta, while “Smoke gets in your eyes” has a melody that could be in an operetta but vernacular lyrics that place it firmly on Broadway. Much of the score is jazzy, which is pure Broadway; so classifying “Roberta” is not easy. But highly recommending this set is very easy!