Theatre review: Show Boat

Date Posted: 28/04/2016

Rachel Bailey took herself down to the New London Theatre to see the latest revival of the 1927 Broadway musical, Show Boat.

During the interval of Show Boat, I posted an enthusiastic Facebook status: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think Show Boat might have just topped Wicked!"

Leaving the theatre at the end, I reflected on this and decided I'd jumped the gun a little. Show Boat is very good, and made up of all the satisfying ingredients a good musical should be. But I'm not sure it really does top Wicked, which remains my all-time West End favourite.

Still, if you knew how much I love Wicked, my Facebook status, regretful or not, should reflect how brilliant Show Boat actually is.

For a bit of background, Show Boat follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over the course of 40 years, from 1887 to 1927.

The central plotline revolves around a love story (of course) between Gaylord, a river side gambler and Magnolia, the daughter of the captain of the Cotton Blossom.

Magnolia is played by Gina Beck - who, funnily enough, has previously played Glinda in Wicked in the West End – and Gaylord is played by Chris Peluso.

Pictured: Gina Beck (Magnolia Hawks) and Chris Peluso (Gaylord Ravenal). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

This particular production has transferred from the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield following sell-out performances.

The score is one of Show Boat’s greatest assets (the set, I regret, is not, so don’t come looking for a Lion King-esque production). I wasn't sure how familiar I'd be with the song book, but it turns out I knew a fair few of the tunes.

Can't Help Lovin' That Man, belted out in gravelly tones by Rebecca Trehearn in the role of Julie, went down a complete storm.

So did two duets between the characters Queenie and Joe, played respectively by Sandra Marvin and Emmanuel Kojo. Marvin and Kojo give a really solid performance throughout, and bring in most of the laughs, too.

Likewise, duets by Magnolia and Gaylord, like Make Believe, are hair-raisingly good.

The ensemble is one of the strongest I've seen in recent years, and the big numbers are exactly what you want them to be: progressive, full of energy, and accompanied by an orchestral score that urges each audience member to get up and start dancing around in the aisles.

I was also impressed by Show Boat because of the modern-day relevance of the themes.

The musical originally premiered on Broadway in 1927, and the story is set in America just after the Civil War – but it manages to grapple with subjects that will, and should be, of interest to 21st century audiences.

The core theme of this musical is freedom. Mainly, the need for equality between black and white people, and equal rights for women.

Pictured: Sandra Marvin (Queenie) and Emmanuel Kojo (Joe). Photo credit Johan Persson.

Both topics are fought for everyday in 2016. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign is still an ongoing internet force, and the battle for equal pay for women is a familiar debate not likely to be silenced any time soon.

And it is this capacity for presenting an audience with issues they can relate to from the latter half of the 19th century that will be the cause for Show Boat's (hopefully) ongoing success.

That said, please don’t think that it’s a particularly heavy-going production. This is also a show that includes funny one-liners about miserable wives, a tremendous amount of tap dancing and jazz hands, and songs jam-packed with beautiful harmonies that will have you up on your feet and cheering before the last note has been sung.

Show Boat is booking at the New London Theatre until January 2017. Group rates are available; GTOs should call See Tickets on 0844-412 4650 for details.

showboatmusical.co.uk

(Lead image photo credit: Johan Persson).

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