Thursday, 31 July 2014

Show Boat at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin | Review

Based on Edna Ferber's novel the musical Showboat follows the lives of the musicians, performers and workers aboard the Cotton Blossom, a showboat sailing down the Mississippi River in the late 1880's. With music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II Show boat is a love story set over a forty year period dealing with the difficult themes of racism, inequality and racial segregation. 

The show mainly follows the lives of two couples, the first being Julie LaVerne, the leading lady aboard the Cotton Blossom and her husband Steve. When it is revealed that Julie is mixed-race she and Steve are forced to leave the Cotton Blossom as their marriage is illegal. The second couple are Magnolia, daughter of the ship's captain who is needed to replace Julie as the ships leading lady and Gaylord Ravenal, a suave gamble who takes over as the ships leading man. The couple fall in love and are soon married but Gaylord's gambling leads to difficult and trouble times for the couple.

Cape Town Opera Companies production features a fifty person cast who produce exceptionally rich vocals. Paul Madibeng who performed as Joe on the day we attended produced some of the deepest and most powerful notes during his performance of  Ol' Man River and whilst doing so he gave a genuine and heartfelt performance, causing the audience to burst into long rounds of applause. For me Madibeng was definitely the star of the night. The other performance I particularly enjoyed was given by Andrea Thompson who's portrayal of Parthy (wife of the ship's captain and mother of Magnolia) injected some comic relief into the otherwise very serious show. The on stage dynamic between Thompson and Graham Hopkins (Captain Andy) was wonderful and they worked perfectly together. 

The real standout thing about this show had to be the stunning vocal performances. The show had energetic choreography and though the cast may not feature the greatest dancers the amazing vocals more than compensate. The vocal harmonies were rich with layers upon layers of sound and it is hard to believe the cast give this remarkable performance eight times a week and somehow manage to maintain such a high quality. 

The shows set was brilliant and transformed into various locations with ease. The design of the set provided a real authentic feel, allowing the audience to be transported back to the deep south of America in the 1880's and Chicago in the 1920's. The set was complimented by a subtle yet effective lighting design. The lighting was used to efficiently portray time, location and mood without overpowering the scenes. The costumes were wonderful and also helped to reinforce the feeling of being transported back in time. From the bright costumes of the performers to the more simple costumes of the ships workers the costumes fitted each scene and character perfectly and were beautifully designed. 

With a strong cast and a wonderful orchestra this show is entertaining but also tells an important story. Show Boat was an amazing show. The wonderful set design, the rich vocals and the beautiful costumes make this show a must see for any musical theatre fan. The standing ovation during curtain call was definitely well deserved.

Rating: ★★★★★

- Review by Maggie O'Dwyer

Showboat plays at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin until the 2nd August, 2014 

Cast includes: Magdaleen Minnaar, Robin Botha, Blake Fisher, Tim Walton, Otto Maidi, Paul Madibeng, Angela Kerrison, Lynelle Kenned, Anthea Thompson, Graham Hopkins, Nobuntu Mpahlaza, Catherine Daymond, Brandon Lindsay, Stephen Jubber, Caitlin Clerk, Graham Clarke, Jaco Muller, Delray Burns. 

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