Show Boat

From Academic Kids

Show Boat is a musical with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (with the notable exception of "Bill," the lyrics of which were written by P. G. Wodehouse). It is based on a 1926 book of the same name by Edna Ferber, and is generally considered to be the first American "musical", as a dramatic form with popular music, separate both from operetta and from the "Follies"-type musical comedies that preceded it. The show opened at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York on December 27, 1927, where it ran for a year and a half. It is frequently revived and was adapted as a movie on at least four occasions, in 1929, 1936, 1946 (as a mini-show inside the movie Till the Clouds Roll By), and 1951. (See Show Boat (movie).)

Plot Synopsis

The story spans about 40 years, beginning aboard the show boat Cotton Blossom in the 1880s, on the Mississippi River near Natchez, Mississippi. A riverboat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, comes aboard and is taken with Magnolia, an aspiring performer and daughter of the ship's captain and owner, "Cap'n Andy". Magnolia is smitten with Ravenal as well, and seeks advice from Joe, one of the workers aboard the boat.

A local sheriff comes aboard and insists that the show not go on, because the star of the show, Julie, is a mulatto woman married to a white man, and local laws prohibit miscegnation. With the star gone, Magnolia and Gaylord fill in. He later confesses his love for her and proposes.

Years later, Gaylord and Magnolia are married and living in Chicago with their daughter, Kim. Gaylord's gambling debts get out of control and he abandons his wife. Magnolia seeks a singing job to support herself and Kim, and tries to get a job at a club where she finds Julie, along with Frank and Ellie (two other performers from the Cotton Blossom) working. Julie sees Magnolia's desperate situation and abandons her position so that Magnolia can fill it.

On New Year's Eve, Andy comes to the club, unaware of Magnolia's troubles, only to discover her nearly being booed off stage. He rallies the crowd to her defense in a grand sing-along. He brings her back to the Cotton Blossom, where a changed and repentant Gaylord waits to be reunited with his wife and daughter.

Songs

A definitive list of songs, per se, is somewhat pointless since the original production ran nearly four hours and thus is almost never performed in its original form. Confounding the situation further are new songs written for revivals. Typically, productions pick and choose from the original material to fashion a distinct version of Show Boat. Nevertheless, the key songs from the show include the following:

  • "Cotton Blossom" — The notes in the phrase "Cotton Blossom, Cotton Blossom" are the same notes as those in the phrase "Old Man River, Old Man River," but sung in reverse order. According to Hammerstein and Kern, this was intentional symbolism.
  • "Where's The Mate For Me?"
  • "Make Believe"
  • "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" — Queenie's surprise at the apparently white Julie's knowledge of a "black folks'" song foreshadows the discovery of Julie's mixed origins.
  • "Till Good Luck Comes My Way"
  • "I Might Fall Back On You"
  • "Why Do I Love You?"
  • "Ol' Man River"
  • "You Are Love" (considered by Jerome Kern to be his worst-ever song.)
  • "I Still Suits Me"
  • "Queenie's Ballyhoo"
  • "Life Upon the Wicked Stage"
  • "Bill"
  • "After The Ball" a song by Charles K. Harris from 1892
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