Saturday, June 21, 2003


In 1926, Edna Ferber wrote a story entitled "Show Boat." Rogers and Hammerstein brought the story to the stage as a musical in 1927 and since that time, like the "Old Man River" celebrated in one of the show's better known songs, the story has just kept rolling along. It was one of MGM's most beloved musicals when it was brought to the screen in 1951. In 1993, Hal Prince revived the show in Toronto and it made its way to Broadway in 1994, where it once again became a big hit.

Behind the fun and frivolity, Show Boat is a show with messages about such provocative dramatic subject matter as alcoholism, spousal abandonment, and miscegenation.

The success of this show begins with a strong cast. So many songs have become American classics that it is imperative that any production have the talent to present them. In this, Davis Musical Theatre, ending its current season with the Hal Prince production, has succeeded very well.

DMTC co-founder, co-producer, musical director, set designer and light designer Steve Isaacson is also at the boat's helm as Capt'n Andy. Isaacson is always a delight to watch on stage and he does not disappoint in this production.

As his long-suffering, but never silent, wife Parthy, Mary Young turns in another solid performance, doing the things that she has come to do so well.

Kelly Mustain, as their daughter Magnolia, in love with a ne'er-do-well riverboat gambler, is a delight. She looks every inch the innocent maiden, is a wonderful actress and has a beautiful, clear voice. She is one of the high points of the evening.

Newcomer Tevye Ditter plays the handsome Gaylord Ravenal, looking somewhat Abraham Lincoln-esque with his stovepipe hat atop his already tall frame. Ditter has a wonderful voice, which didn't quite hit its stride until the second act, but he is a lucky find for DMTC.

The tragic figure of the piece is the mulatto, Julie Laverne, the torch singer passing for white, whose secret is revealed to the local police by disgruntled suitor Pete (Marc Valdez). Julie has two of the show's most famous songs to sing--"Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine" and "Bill" and Marguerite Morris gives both powerful performances. Morris, who is also credited with musical direction, is a wonderful Julie.

JD Diefenbacher is Joe, one of the most visible and memoriable characters in American theatre history. Diefenbacher (another newcomer and valuable find for DMTC) doesn't quite have the vocal range to give consistent strength to the lower ranges of "Old Man River," but one cannot fault his rendition. He has a booming basso and is a powerful presence.

As his wife, Queenie, Deborah Douglas, newcomer to Davis (and hopefully new regular for DMTC) is a delight--a multi talented woman who can act and sing up a storm.

In reviewing "Grease" recently, I mentioned that Amber Jean Moore was obviously a talented actress but we only got glimpses of her talent. The promise of "Grease" is fulfilled in "Show Boat." As the singer/dancer Ellie May, Moore is a knockout and the stage lit up whenever she appeared. Her dancing partner Frank (Laurent Lazard) was a nice complement and one wonders if the character came from New Orleans with that charming French accent!

With all this talent, it is unfortunate that the pace of the show lagged. With a delayed start and a nearly 2 hour first act, the ending time was 11:30 and that makes for a very long evening. Director Jan Isaacson has done some good work in presenting this show, but there definitely needs to be work done on timing to turn this "slow boat" into a "Show boat."

There are some inventive bits of scenery (I loved the revolving door in Act 2, which served as a vehicle to show the passage of time). Given DMTC's limited budget, set designer Isaacson has created a serviceable Show Boat, nicely complemented by Jean Henderson's beautiful costume design.

Stephanie Skewes gets kudos for choreography. I wish there had been program credit for the delightful male dancer, frequently partnered with Ellie when Frank wasn't around. He was terrific.

The DMTC 17 piece orchestra had a nice tone with all that brass, though quality was inconsistent throughout the show as, unfortunately, frequently happens with community theatre orchestras.

"Show Boat" is not perfect, but it has a lot going for it. I'm certain that as the company settles into the run, the pace will pick up and it will be a good, solid show. The talented cast makes it definitely worth checking out.