Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Magnificent Production of Show Boat
San Francisco Opera

Also see Jeanie's review of Bonnie & Clyde and Richard's review of Triassic Parq

Kirsten Wyatt, John Bolton, Bill Irwin, Patricia Racette and Patrick Cummings
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's Show Boat broke the mold when it premiered in 1927 since most shows before that time had forgettable plots. The musical had integrated, challenging melodies with a serious plot. It took a hard look at racial issues of day. The 1927 version of this beautiful musical is now at the San Francisco Opera House running through July 2.

Show Boat has been one of my favorite musicals, ever since I saw the 1946 production at the Ziegfeld Theatre with Jan Clayton playing Magnolia and Buddy Ebsen as Capt. Andy. Since then I have seen eight productions of the legendary musical in New York, Los Angeles, London and San Francisco.

San Francisco Opera has produced a glorious and bold recreation of the 1927 version of the show with a few cuts from the original version (the Dahomey dance scene has been excluded) with 14 principals, 44 choristers, 12 dancers and one supernumerary on stage. The production numbers dazzled me and choreography by Michele Lynch is spectacular. The overture played exquisitely by the 32-piece orchestra begins moodily, and the darker songs in the show such as "Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'" are kept. Of course there are the beloved songs sung stimulatingly by the superb cast, such as the timeless and heartbreaking "Ol' Man River", the jazzy ode "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," the comic "Life Upon the Wicked Stage," the profound "Bill" and the beautiful "Why Do I Love You?" Also incorporated are lesser known songs such as "Till Good Luck Comes My Way," Queenie's wonderful song "Hey, Feller," and a number created for the 1928 London premiere, "Dance Away the Night" in the second act.

Director Francesca Zambello has made a mastermind move in staging Show Boat at the San Francisco Opera House with principals who are a blend of lauded opera performers, veteran musical theatre professionals, and much-loved San Francisco stage actors such as Sharon McNight, Tracy Camp, Kevin Blackton and James Asher—all giving great performances. The exuberant chorus is an endless delight.

Heidi Stober is splendid with her vibrating soprano voice as Magnolia; she skillfully progresses from lighthearted teenager to penniless mother. Michael Todd Simpson gives a convincing performance as the dashing Gaylord Ravenal. He has a lovely baritone voice which is both lively and heart-wrenching. Morris Robinson is outstanding as Joe; his rendition of the introspective protest song "Ol' Man River" is very moving. He delivers this song with vibrating weight in every syllable through a deep, poignant bass.

Patricia Racette is wonderful as Julie. She exemplifies the emotional beauty of misfortune, especially when she sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." Angela Renee Simpson gives a radiant and witty performance as Queenie and an enthusiastically bawdy rendition of "Hey, Fellah." Bill Irwin rocks as Capt. Andy and shows off his bandy-leg physical shtick throughout the performance. John Bolton as Frank Schultz and Kirsten Wyatt as Ellie May Chipley add pizzazz through their dancing, especially in the second act. Harriet Harris gives a great performance as Capt. Andy's wife Parthy Ann.

Paul Tazewell's costumes are sumptuous with swaggering petticoats and feathery hats. Choreography by Michele Lynch is spectacular and robust.

Show Boat runs through July 2nd, 2014, at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. For ticket call 415-864-3330 or visit

Photo: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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