Well, they’ve done it again!

Show Boat at WCC

Published: Friday, October 2, 2015 By: Gary Chattman Source: Westchester Arts & Education Review

         Well, they’ve done it again! What, you ask? What is that special undertaking that Mr. Stutler and Mr. Funking have brought to Westchester? Why, it’s the SHOWBOAT! “Life upon the Wicked Stage ain't ever what a girl supposes. Stage door Johny's outraging over you with gems and roses. When you let a-fella hold your hand which means an extra beer or sandwich, everybody whispers, Ain't her life a world…” This life upon the wicked Westchester Broadway Theatre stage ain’t what you could suppose it would be—for this is Westchester, not Broadway! But here in Elmsford, the SHOWBOAT has docked and it is everything—all gems and roses! I vow: this is the best show ever at an Evening Dinner Theatre/Westchester Broadway Theatre. The best.

          The original novel by Edna Ferber was written in 1926. It told the lives of three generations of musical performers on the Cotton Blossom floating theatre. the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater. In 1927 Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the novel into a very successful musical that has been revived many times. It was the first Broadway musical to integrate songs with plot! There are two major stories—Julie Dozier and husband Steve Baker, stars of the SHOWBOAT, are accused of miscegenation in racist Mississippi.   Magnolia, daughter of Captain Andy Hawks and wife Parthy, is a talented young lady who aspires to the stage. She meets Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler…and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of a hint of the plot—all played out to song and dance and much more on this very wicked Westchester Broadway Theatre Stage!

          Let’s take the principals in this musical extravaganza: There’s the ingénue, Magnolia, played by Bonnie Fraser. Ms. Fraser is a lyrical soprano with a vulnerability that gives us, the audience, empathy. There’s the riverboat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, played by John Preator. Mr. Preator is the perfect epitome of a n’er-do-well; his voice and acting mirror the excellence of Ms. Fraser. What can I say about Joe, played by Michael James Leslie? Visit the playbill to see this man’s credits! His singing (according to my wife) sounds like a reincarnation of Al Jolson. Electricity here! This actor should be on Broadway—are you listening, Schuberts? Joe’s wife, Queenie, played with verve by Inga Ballard, has a resume befit a diva.

          “He’s Just My Bill” sings Sarah Hanlon, as Julie…she played Mary Magdalene in a tour of “Jesus, Christ, Superstar”—and she evokes empathy and pathos in her performance. Her stage mate, Steve, is played by Eric Briarley—naturally, with his talent, from the “Les Mis” tour. Jamie Ross is Captain Andy—played with the exact amount of pathos and empathy a father should have.

          There’s the song-and-dance duo, Ellie and Frank, portrayed by Amanda Pulcini and Daniel Scott Walton. Laughter, laughter, laughter. Fun, fun, fun. Talent, talent, talent. And don’t forget the snappy Parthy, embodied by Karen Murphy

          The real kudos for this production belong to the director/choreographer Richard Stafford. The man is a genius! How to make a thrust stage appear like a proscenium one is no problem for this stage genius! Give him a yearly contract and let him direct and choreograph every WBT show. This Stafford WBT SHOWBOAT is superior to the two revivals my wife and I saw in New York. Honest.

          The sets and costume design by Michael Bottari and Ron Case (a team for over 46 years) have been nominated for many, many awards. See this SHOWBOAT and you’ll understand why. Without the space found on Broadway stages, they have created magic.

          Ryan Edward Wise did the music direction and the old stalwart Andrew Gmoser did the lighting.   Exceptional work, gentlemen.

          I didn’t mention all the members of the ensemble…yet…Karen Webb, Roger Preston Smith, Adam Richardson, Amanda Pulcini, Kristyn Pope, Gabriella Perez, Zoie Morris, Leisa Mather, Paul-Jordan Jansen, Celeste Hudson, Justin R.g. Holcomb, Alia Hodge, Jonathan Freeland, Michael Dauer, Erin Chupinsky, Eric Briarley, Malcolm Armwood—all terrific. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

          So, you have it: My review of WBT’s incomparable SHOWBOAT. I could go on-and-on…and on with my raves. This show was so good, my wife and I actually will return to see it again!

          Go! “Make Believe” you have revisited a superior musical based on a superior book and you are there. “Ol Man River” passes before you…”After the Ball” (show) is over, you will marvel at what brilliant creative minds can produce—even in Westchester—only 45 minutes from Broadway.