"Show Boat" shines at the Goodspeed
EAST HADDAM — Take a trip down the Mississippi River in Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern’s “Show Boat,” playing at the Goodspeed Opera House.
This classic American musical follows the show business life of a family over 40 years, as they travel up and down the Mississippi on a show boat, performing at stops along the way, and then on to the big city of Chicago.
It is full of songs, but the best has got to be the iconic “Ol’ Man River” sung by the fantastic David Aron Damane, who plays Joe.
Damane has a soulful, rich, and warm voice that one could listen to all day. He is great no matter what he sings, including the funny and sweet “I Still Suits Me,” a duet with his woman, Queenie, played by the feisty Andrea Frierson.
Lenny Wolpe plays Cap’n Andy Hawks, and does a swell job as the affable master of ceremonies and the henpecked husband to his hard-hearted wife, Parthy Ann Hawks, played by Karen Murphy. Porthy has some of the funniest lines in the show, delivered with a deadpan expression, and is an excellent foil to Wolpe’s Cap’n Andy.
They have a show to produce, but it turns out that leading lady, Julie LaVerne, is half black and is married to a white man, something illegal at that time. She leaves, and Andy and Parthy’s daughter, Magnolia Hawks, steps into the spotlight.
Lesli Margherita plays the sad and troubled Julie LaVerne, who can’t seem to get a break and loves Magnolia like a little sister. She sings another terrific tune in the show, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” with Magolia, Queenie, Joe, and the ensemble.
Magnolia has fallen in love at first sight with a gambling man, Gaylord Ravenal, and next thing you know they are married and have a baby girl.
Ben Davis, who has a strong and clear voice, is charming as the wayfaring gambler who falls in love with Magnolia, played by Sarah Uriarte Berry. Berry has a gorgeous, lyrical voice and lights up the stage whenever she appears.
The rest of the show follows the fortunes of the couple, from their attempts at a new life in Chicago to Magnolia’s return to the show boat life, and their touching reunion at the end.
Danny Gardner as Frank Schultz and Jennifer Knox as Ellie May Chipley are the comic relief, doing a dance number in the second act that is right out of the old vaudeville circuit.
The beginning of Act II drags a bit. It has been reworked from the original by director Rob Ruggiero, to make it more of a personal story, better suited to the rather cramped stage at the Goodspeed, but it feels awkward and takes a long time to move along.
It instantly improves whenever Damane and the other black performers are on the stage.
There is an inspired conception of a boat by set designer Michael Schweikardt. It has plenty of stairs and an expandable second floor that makes the most of the small stage, with stellar direction by Goodspeed regular Ruggiero.
The costumes with their bustles and corsets for the women and the suits for the men are, as usual, solid and colorful, although Julie’s light blue dress looks oddly ill fitting and strangely thick. Costumes by Amy Clark.
Sometimes orchestras can overpower the singers, but in this show all the vocalists can be clearly and distinctly heard throughout, thanks to the controlled musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty.
“Show Boat” is proving such a success that due to popular demand it has been extended through Sept. 17.
The Goodspeed Opera House is a delight to visit any time of year, but it really comes to life in the summer. While there are a number of fine restaurants nearby, including the Gelston House Restaurant and Inn, on Wednesday evening some were enjoying their dinners on picnic tables next to the Opera House on the banks of the Connecticut River before the show — a simply elegant way to spend a summer night.
Three ½ Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street, East Haddam
Production: Music by Jerome Kern. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the novel by Edna Ferber. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Musical direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Choreography by Noah Racey.
Scenic design by Michael Schweikardt. Costume design by Amy Clark. Lighting design by John Lasiter. Sound by Jay Hilton.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. (select performances at 2 p.m., Sept. 13, 14, 15, and 17); Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., with Sunday Sept. 17 performances at 2 and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets: Starting at $27. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at www.goodspeed.org
Sarah Uriarte Berry … Magnolia
Ben Davis … Gaylord Ravenal
Andrea Frierson … Queenie
Karen Murphy … Parthy
Lenny Wolpe … Cap’n Andy
Danny Gardner … Frank
Jennifer Knox … Ellie
David Aron Damane … Joe
Lesli Margherita … Julie
Madeleine Berry … Kim