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When Cap'n Andy's Showboat docks for its latest performance his daughter falls in love with a local gambler, which sets off a story spanning generations.

This musical has it all, good music, good dancing, good singing and a good story, and is both funny and sad. It is a show for all the family that will keep you entertained throughout. It has some of the most famous songs in a musical such as "Ol' Man River", sang marvellously by Michel Bell, "Make' Believe" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", which are all performed superbly by a great cast.

The musical features most of the original Broadway cast whose experience shows by their stupendous performance. George Grizzard who plays 'Cap'n Andy' captures the tone and manner of his character perfectly. He is marvellous playing the easy going, pleasant and agreeable Captain who puts up with his bossy wife Parthy, played brilliantly by Carole Shelly. Shelly's performance is actually phenomenal and if you see this show you will know what I mean! An example of this is the scene at the end of the show when she plays Parthy as an old women, you would not believe she was the same actor! The whole show is full of great characters that keep 'Showboat' interesting and alive.

The magnificent set design by Eugene Lee lives up to the musicals reputation. It has colourful blown up photographs of the Mississippi in the background, and the scene changes with the boat coming on and off the stage works very smoothly.

The popular press was full of praise for the show after its opening night on the 28th April. SHERIDEN MORLEY said, "Musicals don't come a lot better than this". THE TIMES said, "It's a well-oiled, bustling production". THE DAILY TELEGRATH says, "Sheer entertainment and real emotional depth" and NICHOLAS DE JONGH of THE EVENING STANDARD says the production is "All heat, urgency and momentum".

I'm quite certain Showboat will be a massive hit in London so get your tickets fast. OK, it is a little dated but for pure innocent entertainment it cannot be beaten.

(Darren Dalglish)

The path of the Mississippi has been diverted through central London bringing with it Captain Andrew Hawks Cotton Blossom Floating Palace Theatre. Show Boat is in town.

Since it's premiere in Toronto in 1993, this revival of one of the greatest pieces of American music theatre has been enthralling audiences, as well as garnering numerous major awards, and now it is the turn of London's theatre-goers to see it for themselves.

I was reminded of a critic's review of another major musical who said that he "came out of the theatre humming the scenery". The sets by Eugene Lee are wonderful. The Cotton Blossom itself fills the stage in an imposing manner, but it is good to see a major musical staged without reliance on highly technical electronic wizardry to keep the action flowing. From the first note of the overture, we are constantly reminded that this is a show BOAT and that the lives of the characters have been shaped by the river itself. Tanks below the stage and excellent lighting by Richard Pilbrow combine to provide perfect watery reflections across the stage. We see the outside of the Cotton Blossom and the sets change with the fluidity of water to take us inside the floating theatre, and then, in Act II, to the front of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, and the stage of the Trocadero Night Club.

The story itself concerns the lives over forty years of four couples and their bond with the show boat and the river. Captain Andy Hawks and his wife Parthy are the owners of the Cotton Blossom. Their daughter, Magnolia, yearns to be a true part of the show boat cast, meets and falls in love with Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler, hired by Hawks as a replacement for Steve Baker, the Cotton Blossom's male lead, who leaves the boat with Julie Laverne, his wife of mixed-race, to escape the racist attitudes of the south. After their marriage, Gaylord and Magnolia leave for a new life in Chicago, a life that leads to poverty due to his continual gambling. He leaves Magnolia to fend for herself and their daughter. She meets up with Frank and Ellie, the Cotton Blossom's supporting artistes, who have carved out a reasonably successful career for themselves. They encourage her to audition for a singing spot at the Trocadero Night Club, a position held at the time by the now alcoholic Julie who has been deserted by her husband. Julie hears Magnolia's audition and leaves the Trocadero so that Magnolia can have her position.

George Grizzard as Captain Andy is given nearly all of the comic lines, most of these being at the expense of his wife. He provides us with an amiable captain, and Carole Shelley nags him constantly, but is allowed to show her sensitive side at the birth of her granddaughter. Joel Blum as Frank and Clare Leach as Ellie provide some superb visual comedy, while Teri Hansen is suitably sweet as Magnolia. Her duet with Hugh Panaro was, for me, one of the high points of the evening.

Against this is the ever-present Joe, one of the workers on the Cotton Blossom. Casting a wise eye over proceedings, his first rendition of Ol' Man River is a true show-stopper, greeted with enormous enthusiasm by the audience.

With a huge cast (nearly sixty) the stage is often teeming with activity. Susan Stroman has devised some witty choreography, especially for Frank and Ellie, as well as some spectacular set pieces, particularly the Charleston towards the end of the show.

Show Boat is directed by Harold Prince, renowned for creating such ground-breaking musicals as Evita and Phantom Of The Opera. Here he has shown that, in the hands of the right people, and with the contribution of a first-rate cast, a seventy-year-old show can be as spectacular as any of the modern blockbuster musicals around at the moment.

(Mike Hatton)

Everyone who goes to SHOWBOAT, should do so with preconceptions. That way, you'll enjoy it for what it is - a monstrously successful musical from an earlier age, when life was slower, glitzier, more sentimental, and untroubled by thoughts of racial disharmony.

Of course your attitude to racism can depend on where you are sitting and what colour you are, and there is little doubt that Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern, one of  the best writing teams in theatre history, had a benevolent but patronising attitude to the their country cousins from the Mississippi basin, as described in the original Edna Ferber stories.

They'd write it differently now. Musical theatre has changed radically since the play was first performed in New York in 1927 and a sharper version now, could probably run for ever. This one will not.

One wonders whether Hal Prince, in some people's eyes the quintessence of masterful stage direction, was overcome by humility after at last getting his hands on this play -  finding himself incapable of disturbing the classic line of it, by bringing it up to date.

It's a charming scenario.  The levee at Natchez on the River Mississippi. Not a lot to do, except bring in the cotton, bale it and ship it out. Year in, year out, that's the way it was for Joe and his negro companions. The river was a source of comfort, solace and strength because it was always there, unchanging and in the words of Joe's oft repeated song Ol Man River, it just kept rolling along.

Significantly, the SHOWBOAT programme devotes a complete page to the history of Joe, played in the original London production by Paul Robeson. Michel Bell has a hard act to follow, but sings it, again and again and again,  reassuringly well.

The main thrust of the story is focused on Magnolia (Teri Hansen) and her lifelong love for her errant, but totally charming, Mississippi gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Hugh Panaro) who gets away with murder and a lot of other things without loss of prestige, because that's the way in was in those far off days.

The men kicked over the traces and the women,  like the charming, deluded, and talented Magnolia, stood by their men.

Magnolia is the daughter of Cap'n Andy (George Grizzard) and his wife Parthy (Carole Shelley), who are the proprietor's of  the Showboat Cotton Blossom. The boat is a citadel of harmony and goodwill towards the downtrodden slaves, but the parents have widely different views about the way their daughter should be raised, and whether she should be encouraged to shack up with a charming bounder.

The parent's love for each other is only mildly disturbed by their disagreement, but the interplay brings humour and a welcome edginess to an otherwise bland plot.

Cap'n Andy is the role I'd die for, and he plays it beautifully.

Through the piece we are captivated by songs which will last for ever, if the producers don't wear them out by reprising them so often. Old Man River.  Wonderful.  Can't Help Loving That Man Of Mine. One of the most poignant performances by Julie (Terry Burrell) playing a self sacrificing, deprecating role in a manner  which shows the classiness of a Lena Horne.

You can't get away from the fact that Ravenal, for all his faults, had the qualities which Magnolia needed, and their duet We Have Love is their way of saying that despite everything, we're going to be alright.

That would be my message about this classic musical SHOWBOAT. Despite everything, go and see it. You'll be alright.

(John Timperley)

As this show is about to sail out of London , I thought it was interesting to see it before it closed. Well......interesting it certainly wasn't. It's really a flashback to the early days of 'musical comedy', with the main character being a boat ! And the average age of the people in the audience was way over 60 !

Anyway, the score is pretty well orchestrated by Bill Brohn, but that can't make it interesting enough. It's far too long for a start and the 'story' is a joke.

The cast included Teri Hansen as Magnolia, who wasn't bad, Hugh Panaro as Ravenal (typical tenor voice) and Kenneth Nicols as Joe. I think I've heard "Ol' Man River" enough after 8 or even more reprises. "Can't Help Lovin That Man" wasn't bad, but is reprised again too many times. It has some good jokes in it, but it's too old-fashioned for my tastes. The sets are not bad either, but it's too polished, leaving nothing for the imagination.

Hal Prince has clearly tried to make a tribute to the show itself (in its many incarnations), but should have tried to make it a little bit interesting. Anyway, I hope the Prince Edward Theatre will have something more fresh with the revival of "West Side Story" now.

(Sven Verlinden)

Originally published on

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