Goodspeed sails into glory with its rousing new production of “Show Boat”

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Whatever you do this summer don’t miss “Show Boat,” one of the best shows ever produced at the two-time, Tony Award-winning Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut.

And that’s the highest praise for a theater that has, for the past forty-eight years, dedicated itself to the preservation of the American musical - from the world premiere of “Annie” and “The Man of LaMancha” to brilliant new versions of “Camelot,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” and now “Show Boat.” The latter three were directed by award-winning Rob Ruggiero. The estate of Oscar Hammerstein gave Rob permission to make changes in this production of “Show Boat,” as did the Irving Berlin estate for Rob’s “Annie Get Your Gun” last summer.

He has, as always, brought together a dream-team of skilled and talented actors, musicians, craftspeople, technicians and producers to freshen-up one of America’s most loved musicals through his unfailing vision and his ability to bring out the best in everyone who works with him.

His “Show Boat” is still the “life-upon-the-wicked-stage” tale of a family’s forty years of living, fighting and loving on the Mississippi River in the late 19th century. Home is the “Cotton Blossom” a river boat that attracts everyone from “good” families” to river-boat gamblers and reveals the continuing post Civil War racial inequality.  However, Director Ruggiero has made changes in the dialog and added a humorous and humanizing scene between Queenie (Andrea Frierson) and Joe (David Aron Damane) including the song,
“I Still Suits Me.” The audience gave it one the greatest ovations of the night - a hopeful sign of our times.

Jerome Kern’s masterpiece is a treasure trove of unforgettable music including “Ol’ Man River,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “You Are Love.” The book and lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the novel “Show Boat” by Edna Ferber.

Sarah Uriarte Berry as Magnolia is just one of the many perfectly cast members of the company. She’s as beautiful as she is talented; a fine singer, dancer and actor. Her real-life daughter, Madeleine Berry, plays Magnolia’s daughter, Kim. Ben Davis as Ravenal is as tall, dark, handsome and talented as a leading man should be in a great big Goodspeed show.

Queenie is played to perfection by Andrea Frierson, and David Aron Damane reprises his rich and deep “Ol’ Man River” several times during the show. Karen Murphy gave a technically perfect performance as Parthy. One of the theater and screen’s finest leading character actors Lenny Wolpe gave a dazzling show-stealing comedic performance as the irrepressible Cap’n Andy. Danny Gardner as Frank helps to keep the perfect pacing of the show with his taps and shuffles in the great tradition of a Ray Bolger (Google him, kids!) and Jennifer Knox best interprets Frank’s showbiz partner Ellie in the saucy “Life Upon The Wicked Stage” number.

Olivier Award-winning Lesli Margherita plays Julie, who leaves the showboat when it is discovered that she is half Negro. Julie’s career takes a tragic turn, and Ms. Margherita’s magnificent voice and broad acting range brings honest pathos to her interpretation of the haunting love song “Bill.” (The lyric for “Bill” was written by P. G. Wodehouse and later revised by Oscar Hammerstein II.)

In this show it can truly be said that the entire cast is perfection…not only in song, dance and acting, but in star-quality stage presence. There is not one sour note anywhere in the production. Noah Racey who choreographed Goodspeed’s “Annie Get Your Gun” and starred in its “Where’s Charley?” creates great fluidity and excitement in the dance numbers. There is some necessary ethnicity in the dances involving the stevedores, but these are done with joy and respect for the dignity of the characters.

Michael Schweikardt is a master scenic designer as he has shown so many time before, including Goodspeed’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Camelot,” “Big River,” and “1776.” Amy Clark did a fine job as the costume coordinator/designer following easily in the footsteps of Florence Klotz, the show’s original costume designer. John Lasiter who has served so well as lighting designer for many Goodspeed shows does it again in this sumptuous production. The sound design by Jay Hilton, who is in his 26th season at Goodspeed, skillfully mikes the singers so that every word in is heard and the orchestra is in perfect harmony with the singers

Michael O’Flaherty is in his 20th season as Goodspeed’s outstanding resident music director. Lovely orchestrations were provided by Dan Derange who added so much to Goodspeed’s “My One And Only”, “How To Succeed…,” and so many other musicals.
“Show Boat” is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.

Show Boat plays Wednesday at 2:00 p. m. and 7:30 p. m., Thursday at 7:30 p. m., with select performances at 2:00 p.m. Friday at 8:00 p. m., Saturday at 3:00 p. m. and 8:00 p. m., and Sunday at 2:00 p. m., with select performances at 6:30 p.m.
If you go -

WHAT: “Show Boat”
WHEN: Extended through September 17
WHERE: Goodspeed Opera House,
6 Main St., East Haddam, Conn.
TICKET PRICES: $28.00-$72.00
BY PHONE: 860-873-8668
ONLINE: www.goodspeed.org

Copyright © 2011.  Critics On The Aisle. All rights reserved.

Published August 2, 2011 in the examiner.com

 

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