Cher Public

Rolling along

Photo by Chris Lee“As Italo Calvino has been widely quoted, ‘A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.’ That’s certainly true of a classic in non-literary form, the musical Show Boat, presented in concert format last week by the New York Philharmonic. Musical theater fans have lived with this show all their lives, and so have a couple of generations before them, but the piece continues to communicate, even in the less than perfect circumstances of this latest revival.” [New York Observer]

  • SF Guy

    Great review! BTW, the complete 3hr42min McGlinn/von Stade/Hadley/Stratas recording can now be heard on YouTube:

    • Luckily for me, I got to know this masterpiece through the McGlinn recording, I was around 17 and I played it again and again, even the 3cd CD. And then I got to see it in the west end, with the Joe and Queenie from the recording, Karla Burns and Bruce Hubbard with the beautiful voice, just before he died. Janis Kelly was Julie if I remember correctly.

      And then I located the 1936 film, IMO the best musical-into-film ever made, mainly because most of the cast were stage veterans in their respective roles, not a bunch of stars dropped into a movie.

      Just consider the amazing talent on display here : Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson, Hattie McDaniel and the heartbreaking Helen Morgan.

      • calaf47

        Sorry…but Janis Kelly was Magnolia and Sally Burgess was the Julie of the production. It was a wonderful one which I too saw on a trip to London.

        • Right my bad… Fab production.

        • PushedUpMezzo

          I was also lucky enough to see that production and met the very charming and self-effacing Bruce Hubbard a couple of times. Such a cruel loss. His solo album, For You, For Me featuring the Copland American Songs is so beautiful. He told me he learnt a great deal from Eileen Farrell’s popular song discs and he absolutely revered Leontyne Price.

    • Rudolf

      Whet your appetite on YouTube and then … buy the EMI set (John McGlinn conducting). It’s worth every penny. And you will ever so often return to it and enjoy it all over again.

  • SF Guy

    My only quibble with JJ’s otherwise terrific review is the idea that Frank Schultz is supposed to be a lousy dancer. In the 1936 film (featuring Sammy White, the original Frank), he’s pretty darn good, just lacking leading-man star quality. Joel Blum. in the original cast of the Prince revival, had mastered the same loose-limbed, artfully grotesque character dancing I remember seeing from Buddy Ebsen in the 1930’s; Ebsen went on to play Frank in the 1946 Broadway revival--I imagine his approach was similar to what we see here:

    (The dancing starts at about 1:45.)

    Many years later, Ebsen still had it:

    • Our Own JJ

      I wouldn’t say that Frank has to be a lousy dancer, but that seemed to be the dramatic choice made in this production, i.e., that Frank and Ellie didn’t really have any talent. I think that’s consistent with the text of the show — after all, in 1903, when they would both be 40ish, they are still doing short engagements in nightclubs and living in furnished rooms. So it is plausible that their act is only so-so.

      Again, it’s not necessary to play Frank that way, but I thought this was of doing it was fun and valid.

      • SF Guy

        I agree, that approach can work equally well, though it requires more double-think on the part of the audience. On the other hand, if we’re to believe that making a success of her Trockadero debut is enough to propel Magnolia to stardom, then we have to assume that Frank and Ellie are on their way up the showbiz ladder at that point. (And in the original 1927 version, they wind up living the Hollywood dream as parents of “little Frankie Shultz, the boy wonder of the screen.”)

      • mjmacmtenor

        I agree with the interpretation that Frank and Ellie are not “star” material or at least not “leading lady and leading man” material. That is why the casting of the fantastic Marge and Gower Champion did not work in the MGM remake.
        As someone who played Frank Schultz (Downey CLO, 1981), I can concur. I was an okay dancer but a better comic and singer. The most fun was discovering a singing style that did not sound too “good” and “trained”. I managed one that was loud and just obnoxious enough (channeling my inner Merman).
        The director of our production had played Ravenal for his MFA and done his thesis on researching Showboat, getting a lot of info from Miles Kreuger before his book was published. In the production, he made several additions/changes that were not common at the time (not part of the 1940s version). “Ah Still Suits Me” was added as was a Charleston with Kim for the final scene. He also added back in the scene with “Til Good Luck Comes My Way”. I was happy becuase that made room for all 3 songs -- “Wicked Stage”, “I Might Fall Back on You”, and “Goodbye My Lady Love”.

        • messa di voce

          “Frank and Ellie are not “star” material or at least not “leading lady and leading man” material. That is why the casting of the fantastic Marge and Gower Champion did not work in the MGM remake.”

          But Hollywood quite early on decided that the Champions, though incredibly talented, were similarly not “leading man and lady” material. So, maybe the casting was pretty appropriate.

    • Krunoslav

      Right-wing red-baiting homophobe that he was!

      • Krunoslav

        Buddy Ebsen, not Frankie Schulz- getting harder to” place” things hereabouts…

    • olliedawg

      SF Guy — Just let Ellie dance. Holy sh*t. She was…(words fail…).

  • Milady DeWinter

    Seeing a fully staged Show Boat about 12 years ago, I felt this was as close to the best operatic live experience I’d ever had up to that point, and I welled up with a tear or two at a few moments in the show, which is unusual for me. I liked JJ’s call that the show holds up like a classic, “untethered” in time. Le mot juste, which seems to be my “mot du jour”.

  • DeepSouthSenior

    The recent reviews, clips, and comments at Parterre on Show Boat are quite wonderful. They’ve sparked a new interest in a work I’ve always loved above everything else from Broadway. The 1936 film and the three-CD McGlinn/von Stade/Hadley/Stratas recording (replacing my long-lost LP’s) are “Out for Delivery” to my home from Thank you, everyone! for the unexpected pleasures and new memories. It’s been a good week.

  • makehayfarm

    Wonderful review. I had the privilege of studying with William Warfield (Joe in the ’51 movie) at the University of Illinois and performing as Captain Andy with him in a 1977 production. The production was bare bones- it was outdoors and the entire set blew down opening night- but what music, interpreted by one of the greats!

  • PushedUpMezzo

    And another essential Showboat item.

    Cleo Laine singing Bill from the 1971 London revival -- no pyrotechnics or scat, just beautiful tone and phrasing.

    • olliedawg

      PUM…More Cleo Laine, more, more…sexy ain’t the word for that sound…more, more…

      • PushedUpMezzo

        Well since you ask so nicely

  • SilvestriWoman

    At the risk of being obnoxious, I can’t post these clips enough when it comes to Show Boat. Von State and Hadley truly give a master class in musical theater. As far as I’m concerned they’re definitive in the roles -- and, after 22 performances in the show’s chorus/dance crew, I know the show pretty well.

    Note: Few singers have ever made it so effortless as Flilcka.

    Still, as Joe, the original remains definitive.

    • Krunoslav

      “Still, as Joe, the original remains definitive.”

      Still, as Joe, the original was Jules Bledsoe, NOT Paul Robeson.

      • SF Guy

        I’d say it’s a grey area whether Robeson or Bledsoe was the original Joe. Not only was Robeson the original choice for the role, it was he who sang “Ol’ Man River” for Kern and Hammerstein when they’d just finished writing the song and it was hot off the press. The difficulty of crafting a viable libretto from Ferber’s sprawling novel led to extensive production delays, so Robeson was released to honor other commitments, along with the originally-cast performers for Magnolia and Ravenal. Robeson later created the role in the original London production, where he had a personal triumph, and was chosen by Ziegfeld over Bledsoe for the first Broadway revival in 1932. (Source: Miles Kreuger’s “Show Boat: The Story of a Classic American Musical.”)

        So, even if he didn’t create the role of Joe in the original Broadway production, it was written with him in mind, he was the first person to actually sing the just-completed “Ol’ Man River” anywhere, and he was given preference over Bledsoe for the first major New York revival and the 1936 film. Definitive--yes; original--maybe.

        Here again, for comparison:

    • olliedawg

      I don’t know whether to smile or cry…Seeing and hearing Flicka (and that McGlinn CD is the bomb) always brings my day up. She was the first opera star I ever saw who defied all of the cliches — self-effacing, even in her curtain calls; charming; slim, and with such a distinctive timbre. One of the great singers, truly.

      Then I start to cry about Jerry Hadley. I saw this performance (Sam Ramey did OMR, and my hubby said, “Well, you are never gonna hear that song done THAT well ever again…”). Hadley was so young, effervescent, and had that incredible hair and beautiful, lyric voice. When he committed suicide, I was gob-smacked. Such a sad sad story. But, there he is, magnificant coif and exquisite voice, frozen in a happier time. SilvestriWoman, you made my day. Thanks.