Be prepared for a really long first act when you head over to North Shore Music Theatre’s sumptuous production of the American classic musical “Show Boat.” There’s a lot of plot to cover in this epic musical. But members of the large and talented cast give the North Shore show everything they’ve got, keeping the audience engaged throughout the evening.
Be prepared for a really long first act when you head over to North Shore Music Theatre’s sumptuous production of the American classic musical “Show Boat.” There’s a lot of plot to cover in this epic musical.
First presented in 1927, “Show Boat” spans 40 years in the lives of numerous characters involved in touring the Mississippi River on a show boat. North Shore’s ambitious production recreates Harold Prince’s Tony-Award winning 1995 “Show Boat,” as well as the Susan Stroman choreography from that revival.
Members of the large and talented cast give the North Shore show everything they’ve got, keeping the audience engaged throughout the evening. The large collection of great Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II hit songs and a complex plot are woven together by reprises of the show’s most famous song, “Ol’ Man River,” the melody of which even shows up as subtle background for one scene, plunked out one note at a time on a banjo, and also reappears in an upbeat version at the end of the show.
This frequent use of “Ol’ Man River” is good news for the audience, because it means they get to hear plenty from the remarkable Phillip Boykin as Joe. Boykin, who played Joe in the national tour of “Show Boat,” receives a screaming, whistling, thunderous ovation from the NSMT opening night audience after his great performance of “Ol’ Man River,” and a roaring standing ovation at the curtain call after the show.
By Boykin’s side as Joe’s wife Queenie is Sharon Wilkins, another amazing singer and one terrific dancer as well. When Wilkins’ powerful voice takes over the second verse of “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” her dancing rhythms are irresistible, her voice unforgettable.
Another great voice in the cast belongs to Ron Bohmer, whose soaring tenor was on display when he played Dracula at NSMT. His voice is perfect for the great songs he performs as riverboat gambler Gaylord Ravenal. As he begins singing the memorable melody line to “Who Cares if my Boat Goes Upstream?” it is clear this is one fine singer. He moves on to the classic hits “Only Make Believe,” “You are Love,” and “Why Do I Love You?”
As romantic ingénue Magnolia, Teri Dale Hansen’s singing style does not seem quite the right fit for her songs, although she played the role in London’s West End version of the Harold Prince production. Her vocal duets with Bohmer work nicely however, particularly on “You are Love.” She is also funny and charming as an awkward ingénue, dances well, and displays a touching dignity in her later scenes.
As tragic heroine Julie, Terry Burrell reprises the role from her performances in Harold Prince’s “Showboat” and the London performances of Prince’s production. Burrell is an excellent soprano with original phrasing and clarity on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and is touching and convincing in the classic hit “Bill” with its unexpected touch of anger at the end.
Jim Walton dances spectacularly as Frank, ably joined by the nimble and comedic Melinda Cowan as Ellie. They expertly perform Susan Stroman’s great choreography, which has been recreated by Ron Gibbs.
Gordon Stanley is delightful as Capn’ Andy, with a hilariously frenetic moment where he acts out an entire scene by himself to cover something that has gone wrong with the show.
Playing his domineering wife Parthy Ann is Audrie Neenan with a voice and manner similar to the character of Aunt Eller in “Oklahoma!” Stanley and Neenan mine a lot of comic gold together.
As Kim, the grown up daughter of Magnolia and Gaylord, Erica Sweany is brilliant performing a strikingly original Charleston in the second act with male dancers at her side.
As Steve, the husband who deserts Julie after they lose their jobs on the Show Boat, Edwin Cahill gives a pleasantly natural performance.
The young children in the Youth Ensemble add variety to the cast. Kara Doherty of Beverly is a screen and TV commercial veteran at age 11, and makes a poignant young Kim. Andre Sasso, also 11, of North Andover has local theater and dance experience and does some spectacular high stepping with members of the adult ensemble.
Director Glenn Casale keeps things hopping along with enough energy and contrast to sustain interest in what is a very long show by today’s standards. Could it have been trimmed a bit? Sure, but do you mess with a great American classic? Do you mess with Harold Prince?
If you’re coming to this spectacular show, prepare for a long evening. Prepare also to be dazzled by brilliant performances, wonderfully inventive costuming and choreography, and one of the better musical scores written for the Broadway stage. This is a rare opportunity to see a seldom-performed American classic. Be aware there are disturbing elements of historically accurate racism in the script.
“Show Boat continues through Oct. 12 with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Ticket prices are $40 to $77 with Senior and Youth discounts and Rush Tickets available. You can find special ticket packages online at www.nsmt.org, including “Date Night,” “Girl’s Night Out,” and a new “Dinner Theatre Package.” Tickets can be ordered online at www.nsmt.org, by calling the box office at 978-232-7200, or in person at North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road in Beverly.
“Meet the Theatre,” a free post-show audience discussion with the artists will take place on Sept. 30 after the 7:30 p.m. performance. On Oct.11 after the 2 p.m. matinee. “Spotlight on History” is a free pre-show discussion co-presented by the Wenham Museum and focusing on historical issues related to the performance. “Out at the North Shore,” an evening for the Gay and Lesbian Community with a post-show reception is on Oct. 9.