Show Boat in Concert

Friday night Dave and I went to hear Michael Morgan conduct a concert of selections from Show Boat. It was actually a bit of a disappointment, as we had expected from the advertising something closer to the full score, as with last year’s Follies concert, but it turned out to be the overture and only about ten numbers performed after the intermission, with a selection of other Jerome Kern standards making up the first half of the program.

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Foundation, which controls the rights to Show Boat, has a thing about not authorizing concert productions of full scores under their control; generally you can do a limited number of “selections” from the show or you can do a fully staged production, nothing in between. A note in the program said that until a few weeks before the performance, they’d expected to be getting permission to do a full-length concert version that had been done in New York City, but that R&H had decided they weren’t satisfied with the NYC performance and were back to only giving permission for the usual truncated concert version.

A shame, because a lot of the staggering power of Show Boat is in the way the score and the story work together. The songs by themselves are just songs, some of them great songs but also a bit quaint and old-fashioned in style. You can’t completely get how brilliant the whole score is unless you put it all together and see how the songs and the dialogue portions work together to tell the story.

Many of the Show Boat numbers were preceded by snatches of the dialogue that leads into them, which helped. But it wasn’t the full-length concert version that we’d been looking forward to. The first half of the program was entirely made up of standards with music by Kern, very nicely performed but all familiar stuff.

Robert Sims, a young man with an appealing baritone voice, had the least to sing, just “Pick Yourself Up” in the first half and “Ol’ Man River” in the second, but he was terrific in both. Ben Jones, who had been memorably good in the Follies concert last year, was excellent and dashing singing Gaylord Ravenal’s part in the Show Boat selections, though I was sorry not to get to hear him sing “Till Good Luck Comes My Way”, one of my favorites from the score and not used in the concert. Debbie de Coudreaux’s “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill” were both highlights. Tami Dahbura’s “Life upon the Wicked Stage” was terrific, I thought, but didn’t get much of a reaction from the audience, which puzzled me; however, the song is one of the less familiar ones in the show and the chorus’s part of the back-and-forth in the verses was lost due to the chorus’s poor diction and the echoey acoustics of the Paramount Theater, so maybe people weren’t getting enough of the words to enjoy the humor.

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