In America, with a few extraordinary exceptions, the races may come
together for money, but not for love.Act one of "Showboat" boldly tackles
the cruelest contradictions in American values-- honor and romance and
commerce, democratic ideals and racial oppression-- and illustrates how
love and loyalty and artistic expression are crushed between the opposing
forces. Act two reintegrates romance and commerce-- honor has been
shown up as impossible over the long term-- and celebrates Broadway as
the expression of newer, freer, better art forms: but this is an illusion,
compounded of sentimentality and glitz. The celebration can work in the
theatre: Susan Stroman's brilliant choreography, recreated for Reagle by
Scott Taylor, constucts a social history icould only have been created
in the roaring twenties, when promoted by the roaring prosperity of the
in which the arts of african origin are first denegrated and parodied, then raided for elements that can be incorporated into as the second act both revealed how and as big a let down as is inevitable-- because eretofore dominated by European operas, popular musical theater was forever changed in 1927 with the arrival of ''Show Boat,'' a Southern tale of romance, race, and river life.
''Show Boat'' - the first American musical that integrated lyrics, spoken
dialogue, and a complex story line - is timeless; so long as there is hatred
and bigotry, its relevance will remain. The 1927 Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein
musical, based on a novel by Edna Ferber, traces the romance between Magnolia
and Gaylord Ravenal on the Cotton Blossom, a showboat operated by Magnolia's
father, Cap'n Andy. The musical takes us from the Reconstruction era to
the eve of the Great Depression with the Mighty Mississippi as the backdrop
for this slice of riverboat life: two-bit gamblers, punch-drunk townies,
and show-biz vagabonds.
Since its creation, the musical has had quite a trajectory, including
several Broadway renditions and a pair of film versions. Such profusion
speaks to its enduring likability: lovable characters, a sumptuous score,
period costumes, a happy ending, and the transfixing anthem ''Ol' Man River.''
The Reagle Players' ''Show Boat,'' now at Waltham High School through Aug. 14, offers a fast-paced version, capably delivering rousing, familiar tunes such as ''Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man'' and ''Dance the Night Away.'' The elaborate scenery adds to the ambience.
Andre Solomon-Glover as the solemn Joe and Mike O'Carroll as the ebullient
Cap'n Andy are stand-
outs. Solomon-Glover delivers ''Ol' Man River'' with a rich, deep texture.
Watching this towering and robust figure is a bit like watching a fire
crackle in a fireplace: absolutely riveting.
O'Carroll as the impresario is charismatic at every turn, from the most
static to the most fast-paced. For instance, during the Cotton Blossom's
sell-out opener at Natchez, Miss., the actors abandon the stage when they
hear gunshots, forcing Cap'n Andy to assume every role and complete the
production by himself. Both wild-eyed storyteller and actor, O'Carroll,
a cross between Wilford Brimley and Brian Dennehy, flails his arms and
belts out lines like a man possessed. It's downright funny, especially
when he falls on his wide rump, exhausted, gasping for just enough breath
to yell, ''No refunds!''
The husband-wife duo of Kirby and Beverly Ward, who play the comic vaudeville-style
dancers Frank Schultz and Ellie May Chipley, add some welcome spunk to
the choreography. Frank and Ellie strut their stuff in harmonious synch
and flirt under veils of snips and one-liners.
As for the central romance, however, Gay Willis as Magnolia and Scott Mikita as Gaylord Ravenal seem stiff, which diminishes the credibility of their love-at-first-sight relationship.
What's worse is the musical's mixed politics. On the one hand, it sends
a progressive message on race relations in its subplot about interracial
marriages, which at the time were illegal. On the other hand, it renders
poor service to the idea of women's rights. Magnolia's strength of character
is undermined when she lets her deadbeat husband back into her life. That
decision is unsettling today, but it reflects the musical's era.
In this production presented in a high school, the Reagle Players pull
off quite a feat, proving once again why ''Show Boat'' persists as one
of the American musicals: The combination of ballyhoo, melodrama,
and stellar performances can whet even the most jaded of theater appetites.
Oh, yes-- almost forgot. Jeffrey Leonard's pit band plays the heck out of Loesser's fabulous score.