By Tom Nissley
I got to the opening night of Goodspeed’s “Showboat,” beautifully managed and directed by Rob Ruggerio. What a fabulous production. It runs through September 11, and I advise you to see it! You won’t be disappointed.
“Showboat” is an operetta with an important place is the history of American musical theater. Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein adapted Edna Ferber’s novel to create the piece. First performed in 1927, and produced by Flo Ziegfield, it broke several taboos - the biggest one speaking out about Black and White race relations, and then incorporating a (sad) storyline into a musical entertainment, which until then was whoop-de-doo follies. Ziegfield thought he was taking a big risk. Perhaps the biggest was using black singers on a New York stage. (first Paul Bledsoe, and a few months into the run, Paul Robeson). The show was an immediate success, and has been well loved through many revivals, but this has to be one of the best. The rich and wonderful “Old Man River,” sung early in Act I by David Aron Damane, as Joe, sets the standard for the quality of the music, nicely followed by Sarah Uriarte Berry, as Magnolia, and Ben Davis, as Gaylord Ravenal, Andrea Frierson, as Queenie, and Lesli Margherita, as Julie. Danny Gardner (Frank) and Jennifer Knox (Ellie) make a great vaudeville team. All with songs you know and love, “Make Believe,” “Can’t help Lovin’ dat Man,” “You are Love,” “Bill,” “Why do I Love You?”
But “Showboat” is not just a collection of music. It represents the extended ‘family’ of a great theatrical producer, Captain Andy Hawks, and his wife Parthy (Karen Murphy). Lenny Wolpe’s Captain Andy is reason enough to return again and again to see this show. You may remember other Joes and Ravenals and Julies, but after this production, I don’t think you will remember any other Captain Andy except Wolpe. Wow, what a powerful imago, pleasing the crowd, caring for his team, escaping from his wife, having a ball, and moving forward through all the problems on the river and off the river! Well, you’ve caught on that I adored his performance.
The rest of the cast is first rate, the dancing is terrific, the sets and costumes and lights are first rate. The musical direction and orchestra are superb. The bottom line is that this is a collaboration of the best with the best. Yes, go!
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre