Show Boat continues at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield until 23 January.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The finest moment in Sheffield Theatres’ (Crucible) production of Show Boat is the result of an understated absence.
In Act II, Julie LaVerne (Rebecca Trehearn), now raddled by drink, disappointment and who knows what else, hovers in the wings of the Trocadero Club, unseen by her friend Magnolia Hawks (Gina Beck). Magnolia has her own problems and is desperately auditioning for a singing part.
In a great piece of dramatic irony, Julie turns away, never greeting her old friend and leaves the club, ceding the role to Magnolia and sacrificing herself for her friend. It is a highly affecting and poignant moment of theatre.
Highlight that Julie’s largesse is, it is surrounded by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein’s can’t lose music and lyrics.
Director Daniel Evans stages the action at a cracking pace. The theme of racial tension is given full throttle in Act I, though is diminished in Act II as the narrative moves to a more liberal Chicago. However, we still feel the tragedy as racism destroys lives.
Equally powerful is the theme of love with its betrayal and forgiveness.
Looking every inch the matinee idol and bounder, Michael Xavier strolls onto the stage as Gaylord Ravenal. His journey to becoming the defeated penitent features moments when we hope he can transcend his nature, but failures still come despite his his best intentions, touchingly illustrated by the relationship with his daughter.
Gina Beck’s Magnolia is fresh-faced and in possession of a versatile singing voice (at one point, she even takes us into Marian Anderson country). Although the sound balance favours the orchestra a little too much on occasions, ‘Make Believe’ is delightful and she gives a rousing version of ‘After the Ball’.
Any singer needs guts to take on ‘Ol’ Man River’ since, for me, Paul Robeson’s was the voice of the 20th Century. Emmanuel Kojo, as Joe, does the song justice and his performance, like the song in its multiple reprises, holds the show together.
I have already mentioned the alluring Rebecca Trehearn as Julie. She has two of the best songs in the show (‘Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man’ and ‘Bill’) in a musical packed with them. Her voice could melt the rivets out of a paddle wheel. Julie’s tragedy is the point on the knife of the theme of racism and we feel its sharpness more acutely when we empathise with the artist playing the role.
Where we have shade, we must also have light. This comes from the comic relief provided by Sandra Marvin as Queenie. Perhaps with the exception of Gaylord, her character is the one most likely to descend into stereotype. Marvin avoids that deftly.
Of course, Show Boat is an ensemble piece and Kern and Hammerstein (plus PG Wodehouse) spread the highlights more democratically around the whole ensemble than I have perhaps indicated here.
Alistair David’s choreography is energetic and successfully accommodates the abilities of some of the less adept cast members. The witty routines for Danny Collins, as Frank Schultz, are perhaps the high point.
Alongs with the recent production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in Leeds, it appears that musical theatre is alive and well in Yorkshire. Certainly, on the evenings I attended the shows, packed audiences demonstrated their considerable appreciation with enthusiastic standing ovations.
Readers may also be interested in:
Interview – Gina Beck embraces the sweeping melodies of Show Boat at the Crucible Sheffield