Show Boat

Definition

Theater

  • A nostalgic musical about Mississippi riverboat days by JeromeKern and Oscar Hammerstein (see Rodgers and Hammerstein),first produced on Broadway in 1927. It created a new direction forthe musical by integrating the songs with the action; another innovationwas to open the show with a group of Black dockworkers instead ofa conventional chorus line. Florenz Ziegfeld of the ZiegfeldFollies was brought in to stage the lavish first production. TheLondon premiere, given at Drury Lane in 1928, saw Paul Robeson'sfirst performance of the show-stopper 'Ol' Man River'. The role hadbeen written for Robeson, but production delays in New York meantthat Jules Bledsoe became the first to sing the song. Hammersteinhad to remove the word 'nigger' from the first scene after Black groupsprotested.

    The story, based on Edna Ferber's novel, follows a cast of charactersfrom the Cotton Blossom showboat over a period of nearly 50 years. Along the way, the players encounter problems with love, money, drink, and racial prejudice (the leading lady, Julie La Verne, is a mulatto illegally marriedto a White man). However, all ends happily at a reunion many years later. The songs include 'Only Make Believe', 'Why Do I Love You?', and 'Can't Help Lovin' That Man'. Besides its many stage revivals, Show Boat was filmedin 1929, 1936 (with Robeson), and 1951.

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