Reviewed by Judy Richter
Broadway By the Bay takes audiences on one of its most rewarding musical journeys ever in "Show Boat," the pioneering 1927 musical by composer Jerome Kern with book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Starting with "Cotton Blossom," sung by the ensemble to honor the Mississippi River show boat where much of the action takes place, and ending with a reprise of "Why Do I Love You?" this production delivers a boatload of outstanding singing and acting.
Ben Jones as Gaylord Ravenal, the gentlemanly gambler who falls in love with the daughter of the boat's owner, has a light, bright tenor voice that seems perfectly suited for the role. He's well paired with Susan Himes Powers as Magnolia, the woman with whom it's mutual love at first sight. Powers has a crystalline soprano voice and maintains control throughout her range. The Ravenal-Magnolia duet, "You Are Love," takes on Puccini-like qualities with Jones and Powers.
Then there's Lawrence Beamen as Joe, one of the black workers on the boat. His resonant bass-baritone and expressive interpretation make "Ol' Man River" a revelation of both resignation and insight. Sharon Maxwell as Julie LaVerne, an actress on the boat, uses her classical training and applies her rich contralto to have fun with "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in Act 1 and then to turn "Bill" into a touching song of sorrow in Act 2. Mary Kalita as Ellie May Chipley and Steve Perez as Frank Schultz display their talents as the boat's song-and-dance team. Eric Wenburg plays Cap'n Andy, father of Magnolia and the ever ebullient boat owner. His nagging wife, Parthy Ann Hawkes, is well played by Laurie Strawn. Josey Pickett as the adult Kim, daughter of Magnolia and Ravenal, shines in the Act 2 reprise of "Why Do I Love You?" Tracy Camp as Queenie adds to the enjoyment of "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."
Musical director Mark Hanson oversees this musical delight. Director Marc Jacobs keeps the action moving smoothly. Choreography is by Dottie Lester-White with lighting by Chad Bonaker and sound by Sound on Stage. The colorful rented costumes come from The Theater Company. The program doesn't credit the sets, which are rented.
"Show Boat," which spans the 44 years from 1883 to 1927, is a fitting, inspiring way for BBB to start its 42nd season.