Show Boat has been called perhaps the most influential musical of all time.
When it opened in 1927 it was the first Broadway score ever to have a coherent plot and integrated songs. Based on the big, sweeping novel by Edna Ferber, Show Boat is the story of the Hawks family and their showboat troop of actors aboard the Cotton Blossom floating theater. But it's also in many ways the story of American from the post-Reconstruction period up into the 1920s.
We saw the landmark Harold Prince production of Show Boat on Broadway in 1994 and ever since then we've longed to see it again.
Now, the Washington National Opera has mounted a full, lavish production at the Kennedy Center's Opera House with a cast of 100 and we've had a chance to experience this new production which runs through May 26 only.
If you're used to Show Boat as a Broadway show, be forewarned. Though nearly all of the music and dialogue are intact (along with the storyline) and though you will recognize all of the characters, this production of Show Boat is operatic in scope and scale. So, the songs are sung in the more formalized operatic style. It doesn't have the brassiness or the added pizazz of a Broadway production. But the legendary songs of Show Boat--like "Ol' Man River," "You Are Love," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "Bill," and many more-- are performed the way the composer intended, with a full orchestra and robust chorus and there is no discernible amplification in the Opera House.
With opulent costumes, big voices and a huge stage and cast, this production is truly grand.
And though you will not find the depth of acting that you may find on Broadway, the characters are vividly drawn. Great baritone and soprano voices predominate.
Originally published 5/9/13