From the beginning, what makes this musical so perfect is the way in which it manages to balance between the seriousness and heart-wrenching moments such as when Julie and Steve are forced to leave the show boat due to some ‘questionable’ parentage with some genuinely uplifting and entertaining moments – usually involving Queenie and Joe.
In 1927, Jerome Kern shifted the shape of musical theatre from twee operetta to a tighter fusion of music with drama. He also designed Show Boat as a slap in the face to complacent audiences with its startling opening line ‘Niggers all work on the Mississippi’. In the Daniel Evans’ production which has arrived with bells and whistles and five-star accolades from Sheffield we have a version which is both polished and sanitized.
Show Boat at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre was the best musical that I saw last year and its London transfer is setting a very high bar for 2016. Daniel Evans’ production, mounted on Lez Brotherston’s spectacularly evocative set doesn’t just reprise one of Broadway’s greatest ever musicals, it recreates America’s Southlands and Midwest at the turn of the 20th century, with a spine-tingling intensity.
Transferring down south after its successful run in Sheffield and directed by Daniel Evans – can the show stay afloat or does it sink? Show Boat is booking at the West End’s New London Theatre until 7 January 2016.
Review extracts from four shows that got 5-star reviews: The Lorax at the Old Vic, Les Liaisons Dangereuses at the Donmar, Show Boat at Sheffield’s Crucible & The Dazzle at Found111.
2015 you sly old fox, you’ve saved the best for last.
The Confederate flag flutters over the stage as the opening bars of Show Boat play out. An ugly image, the flag defining so much of America’s troubled history and setting a dark uncompromising tone that defines Daniel Evan’s production.