This was the first production of Show Boat on the West End since 1998. Having opened on Broadway in 1927, this musical from legendary musical masterminds, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, still packs a punch, dramatically, musically and thanks to Daniel Evans brilliant direction, it does it all in spectacular fashion.
The show is set in the deep south of America on the ‘Cotton Blossom’, a show boat travelling up and down the Mississippi river. The family on board deal with the racial issues of the time whilst trying to keep their performing business alive. The story also follows the plight of the boat owner’s daughter, Magnolia (Nolie) and her problematic romance with Gaylord Ravenal.
This production transferred from the Sheffield Crucible after a run in 2015. The Sheffield Crucible is a powerhouse of UK musicals at the moment, second only perhaps to the Chichester Festival Theatre. It is therefore interesting to note that director Daniel Evans has taken over as artistic director at Chichester after an extremely successful tenure at the Crucible. This was Daniel’s last production as director at the Crucible and this version at the New London Theatre shows us exactly why it deserved all the accolades it has received. He has directed a classic musical which contains all the ingredients of success. The story, whilst humorous, feels slightly dated, but the racial problems still resonate. There is fantastic singing form start to finish from the entire cast and there is a spectacular set.
Emmanuel Kojo gave an excellent rendition of ‘Ol’ Man River’ and Gina Beck as Magnolia was spellbinding as the young daughter of Captain Andy. Her renditions of ‘Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine’ were tremendous. There were other good songs such as, ‘Make Believe’ and ‘Bill’. Dramatically the opening needed a slight reworking of the orchestration, or direction. It seemed like it was going to be stronger, as everyone entered the stage creating an opening tableau which then dissolved weakly into a lacklustre opening number. However as soon as the ship pulled on to the stage, it was plain sailing from then on. This was a charming revival of this classic musical. Get down to the New London Theatre to catch it before it’s done.
Highlight of the Show – Ol’ Man River, Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine, and all of the reprises, and, of course, the beautiful Cotton Blossom.