Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 28, 2011

Show Boat

Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
through September 17, 2011
by R.E Smith

Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Sometimes, smaller is definitely better. In the case of  “Show Boat”, at the Goodspeed Opera House, the intimate setting helps the audience connect to the characters, voices, and songs in new and exciting ways. The story spans 40 years in celebration of the joy, humor, pain and triumph of love. Like the mighty Mississippi River upon which the show is set, the production itself is beautiful, powerful, moving, and exciting.

Undoubtedly, many memories of “Show Boat” come from the film version or the 1990’s Broadway revival, both emphasizing big dance numbers, large casts and massive sets. The Goodspeed, of course, is a world class, but smaller venue, and the skillful adjustments made to fit the house make a great show even better.

Director Rob Ruggiero insightfully focuses on the personal relationships of the performing “family” on Captain Andy’s showboat, the Cotton Blossom. His decision streamlines the action so that the setting no longer distracts from the music and book. That said, the set, as is often the case at the Goodspeed, merited its own round of applause upon revelation.

The show is easily the starting point for the great American songbook with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Each number, from “You Are Love” to “Bill” to “Why Do I Love You?” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” is moving, romantic and inspiring. The songs might be “classic” but they are far from “old” and the proximity to the performers helps to underscore their power.

By example,  “Ol Man River” may be a song that one has heard many times, but beyond the spoofs and “standard” renditions, one might be surprised by the anger and frustration it contains. The weight and tone of the song, and the whole book, is marvelously underscored when one can so clearly see the pain, intensity and longing in the faces of the actors.

Andrea Frierson & David Aron Damane
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
But every song is given its due by the remarkable, gifted cast, each of whom was at the top of their form. The constant comment of “what incredible voices!” can be heard throughout intermission. Each performer invests their character with passion; for the stage, for the laughs and for each other.

This wonderful show is “Only Make Believe” of the highest order.