Show Boat @New London Theatre, 13/04/2016

Show Boat is the first musical ever staged. So to see it put back on a stage almost 90 years later and still be as powerful and amazing, was truly a treat. The show premiered on Broadway in 1927 and tells the story of freedom and love.

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The storyline is set in America’s Deep South at the turn of the 20th century when river boats were still steaming along the Mississippi. The Cotton Blossom is one of them, to be exact it is a show boat. On it actors and performers put on a show each night while ship floats along the river into a new town each night. The owner of the show boat, Captain Andy Hawks, lives for entertainment and his wife is sure to keep her daughter away from the bad influences of the show boat crew and entertainers. One night a stranger and river gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, strides along the pier and catches the eye of young Magnolia, Captain Andy’s daughter, and the two fall madly in love. From there on it’s a classic but romantic tale of the struggle of leaving home and surviving as a young family when the gambling no longer pays off.

The stage is beautiful. The New London Theatre gives for the perfect setting – the stage is level with the front row and the audience is sitting around three sides of it. Everything but the boat is covered in wood panelling, creating the typical maritime look of a pier. And what’s more, the piers extend onto the entrances of the theatre, making the musical almost interactive with actors not just on stage but off stage, right behind you.

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Although I loved the musical, as I love anything set in the Deep South, it feels strangely out of date but still too relevant. The racial issues are not being addressed enough but rather just left there in the room, throwing around the N-word like it’s still 1927. A little part of the story line makes this blatantly clear: one of the performers has an African-American mother and a white dad – in the 1920’s in America this was a criminal offense (outrageous, right?). Yet, the musical hardly acknowledges this outrage and moves on in the plot with showboat daughter Magnolia and her love.

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