Friday 15 December 2017

All aboard the famous Cotton Blossom for a taste of 1920s Showbiz


The cast of Show Boat in Dublin's Docklands. Photo: Brian McEvoy
The cast of Show Boat in Dublin's Docklands. Photo: Brian McEvoy

Forty years is a lot to cover in 150 minutes. Weddings, separations, new careers - Show Boat somehow manages to squeeze it all in. It also skips over a few important details in its quest to find a happy ending. Important details like that dangling sub-plot at the end of act one (our leading man Gaylord Ravenal once committed murder, but hey, it was self-defence so let's just forget about it). Perhaps we're being a little cynical.

Especially when Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern's classic (based on the best-selling novel by Edna Ferber) is an 
otherwise accomplished piece of musical 
theatre, its important themes of racial 
prejudice, alcoholism and a family divided combining to create an all-singing, all-
dancing production that has, to put it mildly, attracted its fair share of controversy since its 1927 Broadway debut.


What we have here is a decades-spanning story about the lives of the actors, singers and dock workers on the Mississippi River show boat, the Cotton Blossom. There's the inter-racial marriage (Julie and Steve's) that attracts the attention of the town sheriff; a blossoming (if you'll excuse the pun) love between travelling gambler Gaylord and Captain Andy's daughter Magnolia (an aspiring actress) and, of course, the hopes, dreams and many a wise word of the several supporting players/crew members.

When Julie and Steve (Andy's leading talent) are forced to leave the Cotton Blossom, Magnolia and Gaylord are hired to take their place. They're an instant hit, and the two eventually marry and have a child. Alas, Gaylord legs it as soon as the money runs out. Later, Magnolia attempts to kick-start a solo singing career.

There's a lot of drama in there (fist-fights, sweaty auditions, angry mothers) and a great deal of rushing around in the second half. But what Show Boat lacks in pace and realism (again, that finale is just absurd), it makes up for in its dazzling array of tunes.

It's a huge ensemble piece. It also features a splendid set (we love a good show within a show) and a terrific orchestra. But it's the simple things like dock worker Joe (an excellent Otto Maidi) singing Ol' Man River that leave us stunned. Some set of pipes on that chap.

Timothy Walton and Robin Botha spark off one another as Gaylord and Magnolia, and Lynelle Kenned's Julie does great work with the iconic Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man. Dated stuff, but at least there's some fun to be had. Running until Saturday

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