Show Boat‘s coming!
Phil’s third Show Boat, having seen the Opera North/RSC version at the Palladium and the Broadway/Hal Prince production at the Prince Edward Theatre. Incredibly Andrew’s first, though of course he’s seen one of the film versions.
Life Upon the Wicked Stage: Preview and all that, but we must mention acoustic problems, possibly due to there being too large an area behind the stage and nothing for the sound to bounce off at the back (like the Olivier auditorium) which initially made the sound feel a bit hollow and rendered some of the lyrics inaudible, especially in the ensemble numbers.
Lift dat bale: But oh those songs; “Make Believe”, “Ol’ Man River”, “Life Upon the Wicked Stage”, “Why Do I Love You?”, “Bill”, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” by Jerome Kern (book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II though there are other contributors including P. G. Wodehouse and “After the Ball” is by Charles K. Harris and “Goodbye, My Lady Love” is by Joseph E. Howard) are smashing and memorable. Phil was humming before the show and he’s still humming now.
They’re superbly sung, especially by Gina Beck as Magnolia, Sandra Marvin as Queenie, Chris Peluso as (giggle) Gaylord and Emmanuel Kojo as Joe who gets to deliver a beltingly heartfelt rendition of the iconic “Ol’ Man River” despite the distraction of “coloured folk” lifting those rather lightweight-looking bales across the stage in front of him.
Goodbye, My Lady Love: Rebecca Trehearn sings so sublimely as Julie it’s a shame she disappears for a huge section of the story.
Make Believe: Based on Edna Ferber‘s novel about the lives of people aboard The Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi show boat, it spans 40 years, tackling racial tension, equality and addiction and is something of a rambling affair. Characters come in for a bit, disappear and occasionally reappear until you realise they’re actually not reappearing in the same part as the actor is now playing someone else.
In Act 2 the main characters, who haven’t seen each other for years, miraculously all end up in the same Chicago nightclub at the same time. One plot thread about miscegenation is introduced as suddenly as it is swiftly (albeit cleverly) dealt with. You might be forgiven for thinking Julian Fellowes had a hand in the plotting.
Ol’ Man River: Towards the end characters have to age 30 years in a matter of minutes. This is achieved with varying degrees of failure. Gaylord gets a stick. Joe gets a wig that is peeling round the sides. Captain Andy (Malcolm Sinclair) doesn’t age at all and, rather incredibly, his wife Parthy appears to look younger. We must get our hair bobbed and invest in some twenties flapper dresses, maybe it’ll work for us.
Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man: Danny Collins as Frank bounces around in a rubber-limbed frenzy like a Jack-in-the-box on an espresso high. His dancing’s brilliant. His hilarious facial contortions would be scene-stealing if they weren’t upstaged by his hair.
Bill: The New London Theatre was far from full which was a shame. We’d tried to get group rate tickets through Group Line who used to offer us decent seats but don’t any more. The best they could come up was was at the back of the stalls. So we bought 4 tickets in the front row at the same price as the group rate ones. If they’d offered us better seats in the first place we’d have bought 10. Their loss. No wonder it’s currently on the TKTS ticket booth in Leicester Square.
Ol’ Man Quiver: For the record the view was great, though Andrew did have a moan about the seats shaking every time the cast moved, let alone danced. Nice to have Sensurround back, making us feel as if we really were on a river boat.
After the Ball Was Over: As they descended the stairs of the theatre afterwards, Phil and Andrew looked longingly at pictures on the of the lovely Winter Garden Theatre (demolished 1965) which occupied the site the hideous New London Theatre is built on.
As Phil headed home he got chatting to an elderly lady clutching her Show Boat programme. She was as enthusiastic as him about the show, the excellent voices and agreed that Alistair David‘s choreography was so good they wished there had been even more of it.
As it is, any finale that manages to activate Phil’s dried up ol’ ducts means it can only be…