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Show Boat a triumph
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Show Boat a triumph
by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Show Boat
Village Theatre
Through July 3


The Village Theatre in Issaquah has done up another fabulous production with its presentation of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Show Boat. The amped-up presentation includes an incredible steamboat set which breaks apart for "interior" rooms (designed by Robert A. Dahlstrom), beautiful costumes by Karen Ledger, intricate and fun choreography by Stanley Wesley Perryman, and a wonderful orchestra headed by Bruce Monroe and Tim Symons.

Beautiful singing by Broadway import Richard Todd Adams as Gaylord Ravenal and 2009 finalist of the NW Metropolitan Opera Regionals Megan Chenovick as Magnolia Hawks includes backup by a wondrous performance of Julie LaVerne by Cayman Ilika - who is fast becoming a major Northwest musical theater artist - a formidably funny turn as Cap'n Andy by Larry Albert, and the beautiful rendition of "Old Man River" by Ekello Harrid, Jr., that iconic song that embodies the rich heritage of the musical. Two songs that have been returned to the score and may be unfamiliar are performed by Marlette Buchanan as Queenie and add a wonderful flavor to her role and in strengthening the portrayals of African-Americans in the production.

A solid core of supporting players includes a fun comic duo of Frank Schulz and Ellie May Chipley by Greg McCormick Allen and Kathryn Van Meter, a warmly brusque Leslie Law as Parthy Ann Hawks, and a sweet flapper number from Kasey Nusbickel as the daughter/granddaughter Kim. Director Jerry Dixon keeps things humming, though with the additions of songs and interludes, it's a long musical at around two hours and 45 minutes.

Show Boat, first produced in 1927, was at the beginning of a trend of putting more substantial subject matter in the format of a musical. On the first layer is the love story of a "show" boat family girl (whose family owns and runs the traveling theatrical venture) and a gambling rascal with good looks and charm. The second layer focuses on the difficulties of the freed slaves integrating into a society that still considers them less than full members of that society, and has laws restricting their activities and access. In this case, the laws were about "miscegenation," or marrying between blacks and whites, which was illegal in a number of states. Julie, a performer on the boat, is reported to be married to a white man, and she was born black (though no one knows that, due to her very white complexion). A dramatic scene, conveyed with great drama and tension in this production, has her husband cut her hand and drink her blood, so that everyone who sees that can witness that he "has Negro blood in his veins."

The famous standard, "Old Man River," is a testament to the endurance of the African-American population and their ability to keep going, like the river, no matter what comes to oppose them. The deep, mournful tones resonate into our beings and pull emotional responses from us that we are helpless to prevent.

This is great family entertainment and allows for opportunities to talk about the sordid history of the U.S. treatment of African-Americans. Fun and educational! Isn't that what anything worthwhile should be? For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call 425-392-2202.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.
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