Can't help lovin' Gateway's Show Boat
While Broadway may be in the middle of its summer doldrums things are hopping in summer stock companies. Each season I head out to Gateway Playhouse which is located on the southern shores of eastern Long Island in quaint Bellport. Nestled on several acres of wooded grounds are buildings which house the Playhouse, some tents for theater-goers relaxation, workshop structures for acting classes and set construction, and even a residence house designed by famed architect Stanford White.
It is at this pastoral setting that Gateway has been presenting musicals and comedies for the last 49 years. During that time they have garnered the reputation as being one of the very best summer stock and touring companies around. In addition to their regular season Gateway also has a Children's Theatre offering such musical productions as Sleeping Beauty and Aladdin on Saturday mornings at 10:30 a.m. ($7.50 admission)
Show Boat, the American musical masterpiece, is the current production through July 25th. I've seen many, many productions of this musical, including the Harold Prince directed revival on Broadway in 1994, but none can hold a candle to Gateway's mesmerizing production. Director/choreographer David Armstrong, along with his creative team of designers, has presented a first-rate cast in this exquisite looking production. From costumes to sets and, in particular, the lighting, this Show Boat was a complete audience pleaser.
Gateway Playhouse is really in Broadway's backyard and is easily accessible by train from New York City, so it's understandable that the talent pool which Gateway can access includes many with Broadway experience. This is very evident by the strong cast and creative team exhibited here, many of whom work the entire season while others are contracted for the starring roles.
Michael Halling (Gaylord Ravenal) comes direct from The Scarlet Pimpernel in which he made his Broadway debut in the ensemble. Rand Bridges (Captain Andy) has many Broadway credits including a Tony Award nomination for Major Barbara and Elmore James (Joe) has graced both musical and opera stages all over the world. His most recent stint on Broadway was in the original cast of Beauty and the Beast. Linda Thompson Williams (Queenie) reprises the role she did on Broadway in the Prince revival. The rest of the cast have many Off Broadway and Regional credits while others in the ensemble come directly from Gateway's theater arts training.
I would bore you to tears telling you about each performer, but suffice it to say that the casting here was simply great and the performances by all were totally professional and top notch.
It was with great relief for me that this was not the Prince production which I felt reprised "Old Man River" to death, and the final scene looked like something out of Grease. Here, we are reminded of the river during scene changes by the superb lighting by Christopher J. Landy and not the constant refrains of that river song. Also, the final scene and finale were more in line with the original 1927 production, eliciting the pathos missing in the latest revival on Broadway. The Kern/Hammerstein II score is filled with wonderful chestnuts. In addition to "Old Man River", you'll hear "Make Believe", "Bill", "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and a few other standards performed beautifully. This Show Boat is not to be missed ... if you can get a ticket.
Show Boat continues through July 25th followed by A Chorus Line (July 28 - August 21), 1776 (August 25 - September 11), and Titanic (September 15 - October 2). Top ticket prices are only $27.00. Box office - (516) 286-1133.
Should you head out to Gateway to see this production or their next production, A Chorus Line, keep your eye out for an ensemble member named Nick Sanchez. This young gifted actor is a star of tomorrow. His dancing is simply superb and I hear he's got one terrific voice (a recent production of 1776 can attest to that, I hear). I can easily see Nick in Rent or Fosse. He's that good. Agents and casting people should take notice of this rising young talent.
See you next Sunday!
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