Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Show Boat
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
Review by Josh Garstka


Show Boat Ensemble
Photo by Eric Antoniou
"New things come, and old things go." Honoring this sentiment from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's "Ol' Man River," this lavish staging of Show Boat marks a new era—and a new venue—for Fiddlehead Theatre Company. The historic Shubert Theatre allows Fiddlehead to create a large-scale production that looks and sounds sumptuous. But in Meg Fofonoff and Stacey Stephens's co-directed production, this sweeping multi-generational story doesn't always find the human heart at its core. Variable acting performances keep Fiddlehead's Show Boat from truly engaging us emotionally.

The company uses the revised Harold Prince version of the musical that played New York in the 1990s, which shuffles songs around and incorporates contemporary dance interludes, as well as sanitizes some of the musical's more dated racial depictions. Fiddlehead's staging subtly highlights changing attitudes toward race during the musical's journey from the segregated docks and theater balconies of 1887 Natchez to the same docks in 1927, now integrated. In a Chicago nightclub at the turn of the century, the directors have several black women in the background cleaning, while the white men run the auditions up front. The early performance of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," an exuberant celebration of black men dancing with their women to a song only black people would know, yields by the finale to the black and white cast dancing the Charleston side by side. Such integration seems optimistic for 1920s Mississippi, but it's still a lovely reminder from the creative team's belief in progress and social change.

The challenge of performing Show Boat today is finding performers who can navigate Kern's operetta-influenced score while finding depth in outwardly stock characters. The character of dock worker Joe, for instance, has little more to do than sing "Ol' Man River" periodically, marking the passage of time—though Brian Kinnard's rich lower register is welcome each time he steps up to sing. The comic characters—including Captain Andy, his crabby wife Parthy, and comedienne Ellie—seem misjudged, never quite landing all their laughs here. And as lovers Magnolia Hawks and Gaylord Ravenal, Kim Corbett and Jeremiah James only come to life when they sing.

Two women alone manage to create fully realized characters in their brief stage time. Sarah Hanlon is a lovely, anxious Julie LaVerne—forced to leave the boat when her mixed-race heritage is discovered. When she reappears in act two, she is a changed woman, giving a husky-voiced, determined reading of "Bill" that evokes all the heartbreak and disappointment she has endured. And Lindsay Roberts is a life force as Queenie, a warm presence who is equally energetic belting "Queenie's Ballyhoo" and haunting as she leads the foreboding spiritual "Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun.'" She is a performer to watch for.

While the spoken scenes lag, the large, robust ensemble compensates with rich choral singing and excellent footwork. With a vibrant orchestra of twenty-seven bringing out the deep colors of the score, the show takes off every time a new number begins. Music director Charles Peltz and choreographer Wendy Hall deserve credit for their excellent work here. The sound design in the Shubert Theatre was unbalanced on press night—some actors hard to hear, others over-amplified—but this should sort out once everyone adjusts to the new space.

It's impressive to see Fiddlehead ably meet the size and scope of Show Boat, spanning 40 years and many wig, costume, and set changes along the way. But miscasting unfortunately keeps this Show Boat moored in place. When the vocals and the orchestra take the wheel, the quality of the production finally ascends to the level of Kern and Hammerstein's work. For the rest, we just have to make believe.

Show Boat is presented by Fiddlehead Theatre Company through July 3, 2016, at the Citi Performing Arts Center's Shubert Theatre, Boston, MA. For more information, visit fiddleheadtheatre.com. Tickets are $53-75 and can be purchased at citicenter.org, by phone at (866) 348-9738, or in person at the Citi Center Box Office Tuesday through Saturday.

Cast:
Kim Corbett: Magnolia Hawks
Jeremiah James: Gaylord Ravenal
Lindsay Roberts: Queenie
Brian Kinnard: Joe
John Davin: Cap'n Andy
Sarah Hanlon: Julie
Bryan Miner: Steve
Dawn Tucker: Parthy
Megan Yates: Kim
Lindsay Sutton: Ellie
Carl-Michael Ogle: Frank
Chris Pittman: Pete
Chris Adam King: Vallon
Richard Gabriel Wayne: Windy
Kathy St. George: Old Kim
Children's Ensemble: Alexa Cohen, Jackson Daley, Brendan O'Brien, Addie Swan
Male Ensemble: Arthur Cuadros, Dan Faber, Sam Forgie, Brian Michael Henry, Sheldon Henry, Collin L. Howard, Dion Jarret, Ryan Malyar, Taylor Hilt Mitchell, Justin Reeves, Dougie Robbins, Manuel Sandridge, George Slotin, Ryan Gregory Thurman, Miguel Vasquez, Kelton Washington
Female Ensemble: Jennifer Arnold, Lauren Bell, Lindsay Bell, Krystal Bly, Ashley Burroughs, Valeska Cambron, Shonna Cirone, Sarita Crawford, Rasmiyyah Feliciano, Allison Lynch, Alison Mahoney, Yewande Odetoyinbo, Christina Pecce, Roslyn Seale, Tinaiya Tank

Production Team:
Founding Producing Artistic Director/Co-Director: Meg Fofonoff
Associate Producing Artistic Director/Co-Director/Costume Designer: Stacey Stephens
Lighting Designer: Zach Blane
Scenic Designer: Paul Tate dePoo III
Production Manager/Technical Director: Daryl Pauley
Assistant Director: Ryan Began
Music Director: Charles Peltz
Choreographer: Wendy Hall
Rehearsal Accompanist: Chelsea Whitaker
Production Stage Manager: Alycia Marucci
Assistant Stage Managers: Lukas Theodossiou, Rachel C. Lucas
Associate Lighting Designer: Scot Gianelli
Sound Designer/Engineer: Brian McCoy
Projections Designer: Kevan Loney
Makeup Design: Joe Dulude II
Assistant Costume Design: Elisabetta Polito
Properties Master: Rachel Shainwald


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