Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Show Boat
Asolo Repertory Theatre

David Sattler, Daniella Dalli, Joel Blum, Elisa Van Duyne, Dennis Lambert and Cast
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's bold 1927 musical Show Boat opens the second year of Asolo Rep's five-year survey of The American Character. It would be hard to find a more fitting choice since the show follows the Cotton Blossom family through 40 years of life on and off the Mississippi River; the one constant in their lives is that "Ol' Man River, he just keeps rollin', he keeps on rollin' along." Along the way, the musical addresses the themes of changing race relations, including miscegenation.

Show Boat began life as a huge Florenz Ziegfeld production with a cast of 75 in 1927. Because of the times, book writer Oscar Hammerstein II made choices that he probably wouldn't have made in later years. The show has had many productions, several while the writers were still alive, and they made changes for each of them, adding and cutting songs, making minor changes in the book. Therefore, no one version is clearly what the writers intended. John McGlinn conducted a brilliant studio recording in 1989 which attempted to recreate what was heard by the opening night audience in 1927. All other musical additions after that time are contained in an hour-long appendage at the end of the 3-1/2 hour plus recording. Using McGlinn as a starting point, it will still be necessary for any modern producer to make some hard choices about the piece. Purist that I am, I believe that the closer you can stay to the very original version the better.

The production being presented by Asolo Rep is based on a "chamber version" first done two years ago at Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut with the same director and choreographer but an entirely different cast. A cast of 25 is pretty good sized for regional theater, but with nine important roles and another half dozen featured parts, that doesn't leave a large ensemble especially when there are two groups, negro and white. The production fills the smallish stage of the Mertz Theater and nicely spills out into the auditorium on occasion so that its lack of size is not the problem I thought it might be. I am not going to go into the editorial choices that have been made for this playing version except to say that some work very well and quite a few not so much. No matter what, it is great for yet another generation to become acquainted with this American classic, and hear such great songs as "Make Believe," "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," "You are Love" and "Bill."

The cast is quite strong throughout. Joel Blum as Captain Andy Hawks, father to "one big happy family," brings verve and a really nice comic touch to this central role. Dorothy Stanley as wife Parthy Ann is bossy as needed but also shows the love for husband and daughter that resides underneath the exterior. Marissa McGowan as daughter Magnolia sings beautifully, with a nice easy top. Ben Davis as Gaylord Ravenal "of the Tennessee Ravenals" exhibits the easy charm and good looks required to make the ladies up and down the river swoon and Magnolia fall in love at first sight. Davis sings well and does an exceptional job of conveying the deterioration of the man as finances worsen. Daniella Dalli engages the audience's sympathies as the tragic Julie. E. Faye Butler plays Queenie, cook and earth mother to the women of the Cotton Blossom, while Michael James Leslie brings appropriate gravitas to the show stopping "Ol' Man River," assisted by Johnathan Shepherd, Daniel Belnavis and Nicholas Ward. Elisa Van Duyne as Ellie May Chipley and Denis Lambert as Frank round out the featured cast. The ensemble does strong work in a number of small but telling parts, as well as adding vocal substance to large group scenes.

Director Rob Ruggiero has done a very good job focusing the production, not the easiest task, especially the episodic second act. I wish the tension between the races, an important aspect of the story, were clearer. The two groups are not kept as separate as would have been likely at that time in the South, thereby diluting the underlying drama. Noah Racey's dances are lively and well integrated into the whole. Music Director F. Wade Russo leads an intrepid band of eight, keeping tempos lively. Michael Schweikardt's setting for The Cotton Blossom and its environs, originally designed for Goodspeed Opera, is very effective. Costumes by Amy Clark are lavish, multiple outfits for everyone as time dictated. Frank's various garish outfits were some of my favorites. Every other technical aspect contributes to the success of the evening. Show Boat will delight Sarasota audiences through the holiday season.

Asolo Repertory Theater presents Showboat through December 29, 2013, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail. Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit

Cast (in order of appearance)
Captain Andy Hawks: Joel Blum*
Ellie May Chipley: Elisa Van Duyne*
Frank Schultz: Denis Lambert*
Parthy Ann Hawks: Dorothy Stanley*
Julie LaVerne: Daniella Dalli*
Steven Baker: David Sattler*
Pete Gavin: Griffeth Whitehurst
Queenie: E. Faye Butler*
Windy: Bruce Sabath*
Gaylord Ravenal: Ben Davis*
Sheriff Ike Vallon: Dan Kennett
Magnolia Hawks: Marissa McGowan*
Joe: Michael James Leslie*
Willy: Dereck D. Seay
Backwoodsmen: Dan Kennett, Dereck D. Seay
Town Girls: Brigid Kegel, Brittany Proia*, Katie Weidmaier
A Governess: Brigid Kegel
Young Kim: Lilly Mae Stewart
Nuns: Brigid Kegel, Katie Weidmaier
Mrs. O'Brien: Denise Lute*
Jim Greene: Bruce Sabath*
Jake: Jeff M. Smith
Charlie: Nicholas Ward
Lottie: Katie Weidmaier
Dottie: Brittany Proia*
Old Lady: Denise Lute*
Adult Kim: Brittany Proia*
Ensemble: Daniel Belnavis, Candace C. Culcleasure, Troy Jackson, Johnathan Shepherd, Brigid Kegel, Dan Kennett, Denise Lute*, Brittany Proia*, Bruce Sabath*, David Sattler*, Dereck D. Seay, Jeff M. Smith, Nicholas Ward*, Griffeth Whitehurst, Katie Weidmaier

* Member of Actor's Equity

Musicians (in alphabetical order)
Teri Booth--Reeds
Rodney Bush--Keyboard 2
Carlann Evans--Violin/Viola
TJ Glowacki--Upright Bass
Vic Mongillo--Trumpet
Don Parker--Trombone
F. Ward Russo--Conductor/Keyboard I
Tom Suta--Percussion

Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Choreography--Noah Racey
Orchestrations--Dan Delange
Additional Musical Arrangements--Michael O'Flaherty
Set Design--Michael Schweikardt
Costume Design--Amy Clark
Lighting Design--John Lasiter
Sound Design--Kevin Kennedy
Fight Director--Bruce Lecure
Hair/Wig & Make Up Design--Michelle Hart
Sound Effects provided by Jay Hilton
Production Stage Manager--Kelly A. Borgia*
Dramaturg--Lauryn E. Sasso
Assistant Director--Nicholas Ward

Photo: Frank Atura

--William S. Oser

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