Having officially opened at the New London Theatre on Monday, Love London Love Culture popped along to see Show Boat – the musical everyone is talking about!
It is difficult to know where to begin on this stunning new production of Show Boat, directed to perfection by Daniel Evans, which has transferred from Sheffield for a limited season at the New London Theatre.
Do you start with the stunning music that is by equal turns heartbreaking (‘Ol’ Man River) and entertaining (‘I Still Suits Me’) performed brilliantly by a strong cast? Or how about the energetic choreography?
Show Boat is not a musical that this writer is particularly familiar with – so it would be fair to say that I had no idea what to expect when I went in, but when I came out I was numb from the emotional rollercoaster that this show takes you on.
The musical follows the changing fortunes of those who are aboard the good ship Cotton Blossom, set against the backdrop of America’s Deep South at the turn of the 20th century. It is a story of love, freedom, loyalty and to some extent prejudice.
Unlike many other musicals that I have seen, Show Boat opens with a quietly understated rendition of ‘Cotton Blossom’ that sets the tone for the rest of the show. This isn’t a big flashy show with a lot of tricks – but rather one that allows the music and the characters to stand out.
From the beginning, what makes this musical so perfect is the way in which it manages to balance between the seriousness and heart-wrenching moments such as when Julie and Steve are forced to leave the show boat due to some ‘questionable’ parentage with some genuinely uplifting and entertaining moments – usually involving Queenie and Joe.
Yes, there is an issue with the sound – particularly during conversations between characters that slightly distracts from what is happening that hopefully the theatre and the production can resolve – but that in itself won’t prevent you from having an excellent time.
There are so many stand out performances to mention. From Emmanuel Kojo as Joe – giving a spine tingling performance of ‘Ol’ Man River’ to Rebecca Trehearn delivering a vulnerable performance as Julie whose parentage is used to discriminate against her.
But the characters who really stand out are Gina Beck as the lively, naive and joyful Magnolia, who scampers around the stage with so much delight and charisma, you can’t take your eyes off her. Lucy Briers as her mother Parthy Anne also makes a memorable turn – coldly moral and sharp, whose performance works well with Malcolm Sinclair as Captain Andy Hawkes. Sandra Marvin as Queenie is a force to be reckoned with – lots of personality and charm that is a delight to watch.
Alistair David’s choreography is sharp, focused and makes the audience to jump up and get involved themselves – particularly in the sequence towards the end of the first act when everyone is preparing for a wedding.
It might be a musical about love and loyalty – but as the audience finds out that in real life not everything ends happily or goes according to plan, which is why it is such a revelation to watch – even if it would have been great to have had more detail included about the racial prejudice back then.
But this aside it is a thoroughly enjoyable show and well worth a watch if you are looking for a musical that is completely different to anything else you may have seen.