Show Boat

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“Show Boat” is an old-style musical, where the guy and girl fall in love over the course of one song, where the women pledge to stand by their men no matter how worthless they are, and where the characters are all involved in show business in some way.

The first act is set on a boat on the Mississippi River in the late 1800s. Three couples are introduced. The main one is Magnolia (Jodi Darling), daughter of the ship’s captain, and drifter Gaylord Ravenal (Rob Richardson). We are told he once killed a guy, but it was in self-defense, so it never comes up again (but, you know, thanks for mentioning it).

Their love is forbidden by the captain’s prudish wife, Parthy (Pam Feicht), though dad (Kerry Sensenbach) is OK with it. They go off to Chicago, where Gay makes a living as a gambler, until he abruptly leaves a pregnant Magnolia with no explanation.

Meanwhile, the show boat’s stars, Steve (Alan Gillespie) and Julie (Jean Michelle Grier), are banished from the boat when the local authorities find out they’re an inter-racial couple (which was illegal in those days). They, too, wind up in Chicago, where Julie struggles to make a living as a singer in a divey nightclub.

More meanwhile, Frank (Chad Harlow) and Ellie (Lisa Kassay) are the show boat show’s comic relief, as well as “Show Boat’s” comic relief, if you can follow that. They, too, come in contact with the others in the second act.

It’s a bittersweet musical, with some great toe-tapping raggish tunes mixed in with the mournful “Ol’ Man River” and other laments.

The cast of the touring company in Salt Lake City this week is hit-or-miss. Frances A. Jones and Phillip Lamar Boykin are fantastic as Queenie and Joe, the two main black characters who work on the boat. Boykin sings “Ol’ Man River” and earns the thunderous applause he gets for it; the two also sing “I Still Suits Me” like there’s no tomorrow.

Pam Feicht is embarrassingly stilted and amateurish as the captain’s wife, however, and some of the other smaller roles are played with the wide-eyed over-excitement of talent-show participants.

I should point out that it is impossible to give the show an entirely fair review. My seats were in the 11th row, which one would think would be fine. However, Kingsbury Hall’s auditorium is not sloped very well. The first five rows are great, and so are the back eight (and the entire balcony). Everything in the middle, though, has you struggling to see past the heads of the people in front of you. (The chairs aren’t staggered, either: Everything’s lined up exactly in a row, so you can’t even see between people.) If it hadn’t been sold-out, I’d have moved to a different seat. If it hadn’t been for deadlines and scheduling, I’d have come back a different night.

So there I was, stuck in a seat from which I could see stage right great, stage left OK, and center stage not at all — depending on how the guy in front of me positioned his head, which depended on how the guy in front of HIM sat, and so on.

A friend of mine in the audience said he enjoyed the show, from what he could see; between the two of us, we think we saw the whole thing. It’s a little uneven, and avoid those mid-section seats at all costs, but it’s generally a solid production of a warm old musical. From my perspective: C- From what I could tell of the show’s actual quality: B+

I was never so annoyed with a venue as I was here. I'm not saying critics deserve extra-special treatment. But you'd think if you have any hopes of their enjoying the show, you'd give them seats that allowed them to see it. Everyone in my section had the same problem, from what I could see of all the head-bobbing that went on throughout it.

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