Show Boat Docks in San Mateo
On December 27, 1927, Florenz Ziegfeld, who was noted more for his musical revues "glorifying the American woman," presented what is considered to be the first true American "musical play" as a dramatic form with popular music, separate from operettas, the light musical comedies of the Gay Nineties and the early years of the 20th century. Show Boat ran a total 572 performances. It was a risky show since it featured a miscegenetic marriage in the first act. The role of Joe was specifically written for Paul Robeson, who eventually had to back out of the show in favor of a much less ambitious Rio Rita. With a later opening date Jules Bledsoe played Joe, though Robeson finally played the role in the 1932 revival and went on to London where he stayed during the "Communist fear" of the middle 1930s. With its serious themes, the show marked a new era for musical theatre.
I have seen this masterwork of musical art many times, the first in late 1946 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York with Jan Clayton as Magnolia, Carol Bruce as Julie, Charles Fredricks as Gaylord, and Kenneth Spencer as Joe. I saw the fantastic Hal Prince production three times: in New York, in Orange County and here in San Francisco.
Broadway by the Bay has always presented top flight musicals with good young talented performers and a large orchestra, and this production is no exception. For a semi-professional company, Director Marc Jacobs is presenting a bang-up production. He has secured the talents of the lovely Susan Himes-Powers, with her bell clear voice, as Magnolia. She is superior in her duets with the gifted Ben Jones as Gaylord Ravenal. Both are harmoniously energizing in "Make Believe" and "You Are Love." Twenty-four-year-old Jones is an effective actor in a generalized concept of Southern charm. Himes-Powers finds the right tone as Magnolia.
Sharon Maxwell as Julie has a striking blues voice in "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," and she gives a plaintive rendition of "Bill" in the second act, wringing every moment of pathos from the song. Tracy Camp is excellent as Queenie and belts "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" ragtime style with Lawrence Beamen, who has powerful vocal cords. His "Ol' Man River" stops the show. Steve Perez and Mary Kalita are charming and loose limbed as Frank and Ellie May. Eric Wenburg makes a good Cap'n Andy and plays it like the original Charles Winninger. Josey Pickett as the older Kim shakes a leg and has good vocal chops in the Charleston number at the end of the show. The large cast of over 40 singers and dancers are very good in the choral work and the dances by Dottie Lester-White. Laurie Strawn is effective as Parthy Ann Hawkes. She plays it more straight than prior actresses I have seen in the role.
Lester-White provides good dance numbers in the "The Wedding Celebration" that ends act one and the "Dandies On Parade" at the beginning of the second act. The production is neatly lit by Chad Bonaker, and the rented costumes from The Theatre Company are effective. The set is also rented from a warehouse in Los Angeles and has seen better days.
Show Boatruns through April 22nd at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 N. Delaware, San Mateo. For tickets please call 650-579-5565 or visit www.broadwaybythebay.org. Their next production is Disney's Beauty and the Beast, opening July 12th.