Rollin' on the river
Nostalgia filled the air on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, as the California Musical Theatre's Music Circus presented its opening night of Show Boat. The musical, with a score by Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, premiered in 1927 and was Music Circus' first-ever production back in 1951. It features classic songs such as “Ol' Man River” and “Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man.”
One could probably argue that it's an outdated production. The plot is set between 1887 and 1927 and moves from the Deep South to Chicago. A lot of the normalized behaviors in the script are also incredibly racist: White characters call black characters the N-word a few times. Most of the black characters are cotton pickers, and anti-miscegenation laws are still in full effect. Of course, that's no fault of the actors, orchestra or designers (set, costume, lighting, sound, makeup, etc.)—it's just an old play.
In fact, the cast, orchestra and designers do their best to keep the somewhat slow-moving production interesting. One visual thing that sticks out is the costumes. Comic-relief characters Frank (Jamie Torcellini) and Ellie (Jennifer Cody) wear psychedelic garb that reflect their crazy (and humorously portrayed) personalities. Nikki Crawford stuns as Julie, in a classy Chicago torch-singer dress.
Phillip Boykin steals the show musically with his portrayal of Joe. He's a crowd favorite, and his phenomenal baritone was deservedly nominated for a Tony in 2012 for his work in Porgy and Bess on Broadway. Ron Bohmer and Jennifer Hope Wills are also solid singers, portraying lead characters Gaylord Ravenal and Magnolia, respectively.
But they're not enough to give an old plot—which doesn't really ever resolve its conflict—new legs. Spoiler alert galore: Basically, Gaylord Ravenal falls in love, gambles his life and family away, and never really faces the consequences or changes. Magnolia just rolls over and takes it and raises their child, Kim, by herself. Then, she just forgives him out of the blue, because she never stopped loving him, because he's her “man.” Kind of an antiquated sentiment, if you ask me.