‘Show Boat’ originally opened on Broadway in 1927 and is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber and features music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Reagle’s version of ‘Show Boat’ was originally produced by Goodspeed Musicals in 2011 and runs a bit shorter than the original version. This production was directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the production was plagued with problems in both technical and performance, leaving much to be desired.
The mediocre opening should have been a clue that this production was going to lack excitement, investable characters and overall cohesiveness. Unfortunately, the way the characters were portrayed, I didn’t connect with them or their stories. The accents were varied and erratic amongst the cast and even with individual characters. The scenery was plain and could have easily been used for any number of productions just by changing the paint. It seemed more often than not that the cast was play acting and not fully committing to their characters; they were performing caricatures rather than real people living out real stories.
Furthermore, the choreography was extensively ballet based, making it inconsistent with the characters who danced it. One minute they’re picking cotton or working on the docks and the next they are turning and moving gracefully across the stage like a well-trained dancer. It fractured the illusion and therefore the story.
The biggest problem with this production was the poor sound quality. The microphones continually cut in and out making it difficult to hear a few of the leads. The sound problems in this theatre are incredibly frustrating and need to get figured out! Not being able to hear Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Magnolia Hawks) sing for half the show is not only annoying, but incredibly unfair to her because she has such a beautiful voice. She’s well-trained with great musicality and a wonderful, clear tone. It’s too bad we couldn’t hear more of her!
While there was not much I liked about this production, it did, thankfully, have some top notch vocalists in the leading roles; like the aforementioned Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Magnolia Hawks. Both “Make Believe” and “You are Love”, her duets with Ciarán Sheehan (Gaylord Ravenal), were beautifully sung. Their voices blended nicely together and made their romance more believable. Michel Bell, as Joe, delivered in his deep and rich rendition of “Ol’ Man River”. Regretfully, his words were muddled at times and he was difficult to understand.
The male ensemble that joined him for the ending of the number could have been more powerful and impactful had there been more than three of them. Nonetheless, they were strong and confident in their parts. Dani Wrenn, as Julie LaVerne, showcased strong vocals on both “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill”. While she didn’t come across as heartbroken and distressed in “Bill” as she could have, her sweet nature and joyful smile captured the audience during “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. Yewande O. Odetoyinbo, as Queenie, was naturally funny and a delight to watch. Joy Clark, as Ellie May Chipley, and Kevin Patrick Martin, as Frank Schultz, were amusing and showed off some of their stellar dance skills.
Though some audience members seemed to really enjoy this production, many commented on the poor sound quality and how it negatively impacted their overall enjoyment of the show. They thought the talent was good, but wished the cast had been larger and the overall production more grandiose. ©
‘Show Boat’ plays until July 16th at the Robinson Theatre (617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA). For information and tickets visit www.reaglemusictheatre.com. Photo: Michel Bell as JOE (center) and ensemble perform “Ol’ Man River”. Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott
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