Presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Music by Jerome Kern
Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Co-Directed by Meg Fofonoff and Stacey Stephens
Musical Direction by Charles Peltz
Choreography by Wendy Hall
Review by Travis Manni
(Boston, MA) I grew up on classic musicals like The King and I and Call Me Madam. After seeing Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of Show Boat, I’m surprised that my grandmother never introduced the show to me at an early age. While knowing the show may have given me a higher appreciation for seeing the staged version, I can’t deny that I was caught off guard with how enjoyable Show Boat turned out to be.
While travelling with her show boat captain father, Magnolia (Kim Corbett) dreams of becoming an actor, but her prudish mother would rather see her be a pianist than a performer. While mooring in a town to perform, “Nolia,” as she is often nicknamed, meets and falls for Gaylord Ravenal (Jeremiah James), a mysterious traveler with a murky past, and they eventually decide to get married. Against her mother’s will, the wedded couple moves away from the show boat life and settle down in Chicago. But it’s not the typical happily ever after once Gaylord’s gambling problems get the better of him and he questions his abilities as a family man.
First off, the quality of this production soars above the bar set by Fiddlehead’s choice of venue. The set, complete with multi-level boat decks and stunning backdrops, was phenomenally well crafted and helped place the audience right along the Mississippi. The costumes in this show were gorgeous. Stacey Stephens’ designs and execution were such an intricate treat and I couldn’t peel my eyes away from the colorful pieces. To top it all off, Wendy Hall’s choreography included wonderful routines that kept the audience engaged and excited while conductor Charles Peltz kept the orchestra perfectly on track to create a great emotional ambiance for the show.
Kim Corbett as the young Magnolia was naïve but hopeful, unwilling to bow to her mother’s expectations and a great feminist icon, both in her youth and in her later years as a mother driven by her own willpower. Jeremiah James as Gaylord played off the role with charm and a genuine love that made it so hard to hate him for abandoning his family. Additionally, Sarah Hanlon as Nolia’s friend Julie LaVerne was unapologetically daring and functioned as a great mentor. John Davin as Cap’n Andy Hawks was unconditionally loving and supportive of his daughter and provided a nice flare of comedy with his welcoming and c’est le vie demeanor. And powerhouses Brian Kinnard as Joe and Lindsay Roberts as Queenie helped create a solid foundation for the African-American narrative through line that gave the show good historical context, but also a layer of social responsibility. Perseverance and kindness were two big factors that allowed characters in this show to find common ground, which may not be as progressive of a thought as when this musical originally came out, but still allowed the show to feel at least a little familiar.
While it’s quite plain that Show Boat is a drawn out musical (the plot isn’t particularly riveting until the drama in act two kicks in), Fiddlehead’s production is so well done that I couldn’t help becoming mesmerized. No, it’s not culturally relevant, but there are strong messages of family and love that hold true. And it’s honestly just great theatre.
Show Boat runs for 3 hours with one intermission and will hold performances at the Shubert Theatre through July 3. To purchase tickets, click here.