Show Boat at WBT

Published: Wednesday, October 21, 2015 By: Chip Deffaa Source: Cabaret Scenes

Show Boat—playing through January 31, 2016—is, quite simply, the best production that the Westchester Broadway dinner theater has mounted in years, and one of the best productions I’ve ever seen there.

The score—by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein—remains one of the glories of American musical theater, with one superb number following another: “Ol’ Man River”; “Make Believe”; “You Are Love”; “Bill”;  “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Adding “Ah Still Suits Me,” which was written for the 1936 film version of Show Boat  is a wise choice, too—not just because it’s a good song, but because it’s smart to give Michael James Leslie (playing Joe), who’s one of the strongest members of the cast, more to do. And I like the foreshadowing provided by the dark “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’,” which was written for the original production but has often been cut in revivals of the show. The company of 25 actors (directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford) and nine musicians (music director, Ryan Wise) does justice to the score.

The dancing—I wish there were more of it—is as appealing as any I’ve seen at Westchester Broadway.  (I particularly loved the dancing used to convey the passage of time in the second act.)  This is one of few productions I’ve ever seen at this theater that I actually wanted to run longer. I wouldn’t have minded even more singing and dancing, and letting the story unfold more completely.

Though I know this musical inside out, I found myself getting thoroughly caught up in the story and tearing up a bit when Cap’n Andy (Jamie Ross) finds his daughter,  Magnolia (Bonnie Fraser), singing in a Chicago club.  Originally presented in 1927Show Boat was a landmark  — a more mature music, by far, than the average musical of its time.  It has a kind of epic grandeur that remains irresistible.