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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Village Theatre's Show Boat a Ship-Shape Success

Show Boat
Megan Chenovick and Cayman Ilika
Just because the musical version of Edna Ferber's legendary saga Show Boat was written 82 years ago, doesn't mean one need have any concerns about attending the sparkling Village Theatre production which opened last week. For one reason, the version the company is staging is for the most part the 1994 Broadway revision by legendary Broadway director/producer Hal Prince, which restored potent Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II songs long cut from the score (notably the potently melancholy "Misry's Comin' Aroun'") and politically corrected some of the original Hammerstein libretto's dicier aspects. Another big plus is an impressive Village Theatre main-stage directorial debut, Broadway veteran performer Jerry Dixon. Dixon creates a fluid, cinematic staging of the tale of three generations of a family of show boat entertainers, with snazzy, snappy choreography by fellow Broadway hand and current Seattle resident Stanley Wesley Perryman, and sublime musical direction by Bruce Monroe and Tim Symon.

Show Boat was a step toward the kind of integrated musical theatre perfected by Rodgers & Hammerstein with Oklahoma! nearly two decades later, but it's easier to forgive the lumpier aspects of the musical's plot (and its rapid wrap-up in act two) when its primary lovebirds, gambler Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawkes, sweet-voiced, rosy cheeked daughter of the boat's jovial Cap'n Andy and stern-faced wife Parthy, are warbling such timeless Kern and Hammerstein love songs as the playful "Make Believe," "the near operatic "You Are Love" and the tender "Why Do I Love You?." The musical broke ground rarely traveled to this day with its sub-plot of show boat headliner Julie LaVerne, whose mixed race bloodlines spell the end of her stardom, and how fate, years later propels her to selflessly give up a great booking to aid a down on her luck Magnolia. Julie's two songs, "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill," are yet two more classics of the score, though African-American deckhand Joe sings the musical's most enduring song, the always powerful "Ol' Man River." These songs, fine as they are, require vocalists with range and dramatic skill to put them across, and director Dixon could hardly have found a company more suited to that task.

As Gaylord Ravenal, Richard Todd Adams, last seen locally at the Paramount in the recent run of Phantom of the Opera, easily hits the thrilling high notes Kern wrote for Ravenal, and he is matched vocally by Megan Chenovick, who never allows her Magnolia to be a conventionally simpering heroine, and the pair handle their characters' transition from their twenties into middle age with unforced ease. Cayman Ilika is a dream vocal match for the role of Julie, displaying one of the most potent, full-bodied alto voices heard on local stages in some time on both of her songs, and keeping a strong, forceful presence throughout her character's downward spiral. The secondary comedic characters of Frank and Ellie May, a raffish song and dance duo who improbably become big movie musical stars by story's end, are securely entrusted to the dependably exuberant and delightful Greg McCormick Allen and Kathryn Van Meter. Larry Albert is old vaudeville charm and humor personified as Cap'n Andy and, despite the lack of a key song to show off her considerable vocal prowess, Leslie Law is commanding as the often scolding but always loving Parthy. Ekello Harrid, Jr. as Joe does full justice to his rendition of "Ol' Man River," Marlette Buchanan as his wife Queenie pours her heart into the bluesy "Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'," and Kasey Nusbickel as Gaylord and Magnolia's talented offspring Kim ebulliently anchors the featured spot in a big act two Charleston number.

Robert A. Dahlstrom's scenic design is a marvel of versatility and is never cumbersome, despite the pitfalls inherent in such a big show, and Gregory Bloxham makes an auspicious Village Theatre debut with his gorgeous lighting design. Karen Ledger's costumes are a colorful, eye-popping marvel, with especially handsome costumes for the principal female characters.

Village Theatre, the Pacific Northwest's leading supporter of new works in progress, has balanced its slate well, by opting to close its 2008-2009 season with this rich, robust tribute to the glory days of the classic American musical. This Show Boat deserves to be seen and savored.

Show Boat runs through July 3, 2009 at Village's Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, then moves to Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett, July 10-August 2, 2009. For more information got to www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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