This morning we were invited to attend an exclusive sneak peak of Daniel Evans' five-star revival of classic musical Show Boat which sails into the West End's New London Theatre from 9 April 2016.
As one of the world's most important and loved musicals, London audiences are in for a treat when this highly acclaimed production opens direct from a successful season at the Sheffield Crucible Theatre. Based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber, the musical features a timeless score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, and includes songs that have shaped the history and heritage of musical theatre including "Ol' Man River", "Only Make Believe", "Bill" and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man".
In introducing the rehearsal, producer David Ian spoke of his delight at bringing the show back to the West End for the first time since Hal Prince's epic revival at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1998. Despite being written in 1927, the themes of the show resonate wildly today, and the expansive history that the musical covers explores an important time in America during the 20th Century. David Ian praised Daniel Evans' production that had 'wowed' audiences in Sheffield, and spoke of his excitement at bringing the show to the New London Theatre.
Chris Peluso and Gina Beck
Introducing the rehearsal, Evans told the assembled audience to imagine the venue transformed into a deep thrust stage, with audience surrounding the action giving life to Lez Brotherson's naturalistic design. The stage has been extended into the auditorium in order for the audience to feel closer to the action and part of the Cotton Blossom's crew.
Most of the cast from the Sheffield production are reprising their roles, with the addition of Chris Peluso as Gaylord Ravenal and Malcolm Sinclair as Capt. Andy Hawks.
Evans spoke about the dramaturgical challenges in creating a new version of the musical that maintains the expanse and momentum but focuses the action without losing any of the memorable music. The original Broadway production ran at around four hours, and the show has a notorious performance history for being epic in both length and production values. This refreshed version has been streamlined to maintain the essence of the original yet sit comfortably within the West End.
Emmanuel Kojo and Company
The first number presented was a glorious duet between lovers Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia Hawks that occurs just before the act break. Performed by Chris Peluso and Gina Beck, "You Are Love" is one of the most memorable melodies from Kern's score, and was more than faithfully presented by the young lovers. Their chemistry even in the rehearsal room was electric, with their soaring vocals making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck despite being only 10am.
This was followed by a powerful and stirring rendition of the show's breakaway number "Ol' Man River" by Emmanuel Kojo who plays Joe along with the male ensemble. It was during this that Evans' undeniable skill at direction became clear, providing a firm context for Hammerstein's lyrics, making the number feel fresh as if hearing it for the first time. Kojo's rich baritone delivers every note within the number with depth and density, backed by a fine sounding ensemble that knocked the song out of the park.
Rebecca Trehearn and Company
Rebecca Trehearn as Julia La Verne and Sandra Marvin as Queenie managed to raise the roof with the standard "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", complete with stirring performances from the full ensemble which highlighted both Evans' skilful staging and choreographer Alistair David's wonderful movement. The energy and spirit of the song was captured perfectly, contextualising a song that we're used to hearing in a wide variety of environments.
From just these three numbers it's clear that Show Boat is set to delight West End audiences and bring this groundbreaking musical to a brand new generation of theatregoers. Whilst the themes within the show resonate strongly today, the importance of the show in the history of musical theatre itself is second to none, and Evans' production highlights exactly why the show will never be forgotten.
Watch footage from the production by clicking below: