Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II Would be Proud!

Show Boat opens at the Westchester Broadway Theatre

Published: Wednesday, October 7, 2015 By: Jerry Eimbinder Source: PATCH



Show Boat which opened this week at the Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford is a wondrous trip to a time when Broadway musicals reigned supreme in the entertainment world. The New York stage following World War I attracted many musical geniuses who could enthrall theater goers and among the best of all were Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II.

Kern and Hammerstein would be proud of how the Westchester Broadway Theatre has brought their history-making musical back to the stage. This revival of their classic musical Show Boat is a truly remarkable undertaking.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the Elmsford theater’s most expensive production ever and the theater organization has been in business for more than 40 years (and produced 192 plays). The cast is so huge, the stage at times appears to be a tight fit for all the performers and props. There are many outstanding vocalists in the large cast and a gorgeous Cotton Blossom Riverboat replica is a set.

A beautiful duet (Only Make Believe) is sung early in the first act by soprano Bonnie Fraser (who plays Magnolia, the daughter of the riverboat captain) and John Preator (Ravenal, her first and only love). This is a strong indication of the unforgettable numbers about to come. Michael James Leslie (Joe), a Cornell Law School graduate, immediately follows with Ol’ Man River, done so powerfully and so deeply touching, I felt fortunate to get to hear him sing it again in the second act.

Show Boat recalls a time in history (the year as the play opens is 1890) when the Mississippi River showboat was a remarkable early American entertainment venue. The first act deals initially with racism as Julie, accused of being black though appearing to be white and married to a white man, is banished from her role in the riverboat show.

The play takes place over a period of nearly 50 years. The first act incorporates many lively dance routines and acquaints the audience with young Magnolia, the gambler Ravenal, Captain Andy Hawks (Jamie Ross), his dominating wife (Karen Murphy), Ellie Mae (Amanda Pulcini), Frank (Daniel Scott Walton), Julie (Sarah Hanlon), Steve (Eric Briarly), Pete (Justin R.G. Holcomb) and Queenie (Inga Ballard).

Magnolia’s daughter Kim as a child is played by Katie Grgecia and Alyssa Emily Marvin (who alternate in the part).

The director and choreographer is Richard Stafford. Both Fraser and Preator are appearing for the first time at Westchester Broadway Theatre. Musical direction is by Ryan Wise.

The play is noted for its departure from comedy to drama in a musical on the early Broadway stage. The score is incredible and includes Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man, Life Upon the Wicked Stage, Bill, Why Do I Love You, Goodbye My Lady Love, You Are Love, and Finale.

The sad and touching After the Ball is sung late in the second act in a beautiful rendition by Fraser accompanied by other cast members.

Show Boat is an adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name.

Strangely, Show Boat does not rank in the one hundred longest-running Broadway shows — after opening at the Ziegfeld Theatre in December, 2017, it ran for 572 performances (about 1-1/2 years).

Two movie versions of Show Boat were produced by MGM including a 1936 black-and-white film starring Irene Dunne and a 1951 Technicolor film with Ava Gardner and Howard Keel.

Show Boat will give way to a holiday season show called Tim and Scrooge after the November 29, 2015 performance and return from December 20, 2015 through January 31, 2016. Always Patsy Cline will follow on February 4-28, 2016.