Tuesday, August 21, 2001

Show Boat

The title on the program for Music Circus' final offering of the 2001 season says "Show Boat," but there were times during the interminable 3 hours when it felt more like "Titanic," and it would have been a blessing to let the captain go down with the ship.

Alan Young as Cap'n Andy, the captain of a showboat on the Mississippi river, is an embarrassment. Despite use of a body mic he could not be heard, which probably didn't matter, since he couldn't remember half of his lines anyway (and I swear was reading them from a script at one point, though supposedly in character, giving directions to the performers on the show boat stage). His Cap'n Andy had no personality whatsoever and he only became believable in the nightclub scene on New Year's Eve where he's supposed to be drunk and bumbling as he listens to his daughter Magnolia make her singing debut at the Trocadero night club.

It is a shame that the "name" performer for this production is so weak when there were others in the cast who are so strong.

At the top of the list is Derrick Smith, as Joe, a deck hand on the Cotton Blossom. His "Old Man River" was a show stopper and he received the highest accolades at the end of the show. But not even "Old Man River" could save this production.

As Joe's wife Queenie, Inga Ballard is outstanding. Queenie is a small role, but she stood out from the rest of the cast. Her duet ("Can't Help Lovin' That Man") with the showboat chanteuse Julie Lavern is terrific.

Beverly Ward and Kerby Ward as Frank and Ellie, the comic/dance duo are wonderful. Beverly Ward is a funny commedienne and the dance numbers for the two of them, especially the tap number, "Goodbye My Lady Love" were great fun.

Magnolia, the daughter of Cap'n Andy and his wife Parthy, who steps into the lead in the showboat's melodramas when Julie is forced off the showboat, is played by Dale Kristien. Kristien has an operetta quality voice and a face that could grace a cameo. She made a lovely Magnolia.

Marcia Mitzman Gaven gives an uneven performance as the singer Julie, who is of mixed race, but who passes for white until she is betrayed by a spurned suitor. She is re-discovered in Act 2, having fallen into decline. Though obviously under the influence of the liquor in the bottle she carries around before and after her singing the song "He's Just My Bill," the song is performed straight, with no hint of the ravages that alcohol have taken on her body and her voice. Though the voice is beautiful, the performance is not always credible.

Likewise there is an unevenness to the performance of Richard White as the river boat gambler Gaylord Ravenal. Though White sings well and seems to do everything right, he lacks the suave personality that one expects of Ravenal. There is little chemistry between him and Magnolia. He is at times so stiff that their love scenes might have been from one of Cap'n Andy's melodramas.

Patti Karr's Parthy, Andy's sharp-tongued wife, had some trouble with her lines as well, though it may just have been difficulty working off Young's Andy. It would have been nice to see some hint of real affection for Andy shine through that harsh exterior.

In a small bit of pantomime, Chris Weikel is outstanding and, along with Derrick Smith, was one of the highlights of the evening.

Abby Sassoon as the young Kim, Gaylord and Magnolia's daughter, was very believable, and provided one of the few scenes where Ravenal seemed to genuinely show affection.

Costumes designed by Dione H. Lebhar are lush and colorful and seem to be authentic down to the high button shoes. Parthy's dress for Act 2 was a knockout.

Once again Choreographer Bob Richard has provided an energetic, fast paced, well rehearsed, visually pleasant set of dances.

However, there is absolutely no excuse for Leland Ball's direction of this show. We were seated on the side of the house opposite the orchestra and must have watched 3/4 of the show from the back. One wonders if the actors were directed to face the orchestra, or whether they were so under-rehearsed that they needed the exaggerated conducting of Music Director Dennis Castellano to keep up with the tempo. Even when Ball used the turntable (which he did often), as the table would turn, the actors would pivot to continue facing the orchestra. At first it was annoying, and then it became irritating.

However, the coup de grace came in the final scene. For the dramatic moment when Gaylord and Magnolia are reunited after 20 years, Ball has placed chorus members in the aisles close to the stage, which effectively blocks large portions of the audience from seeing any of the action on stage whatsoever. I have absolutely no idea what Magnolia's reaction was because all I saw was the back of a chorus member's head.

For the price of Music Circus tickets, patrons deserve better than this show.

Stars: 2

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