The new Lyric Theatre at Sydney's Star City is venue for Livent's Tony Award-winning production of Show Boat.
Show Boat is the story of the Cotton Blossom, a floating theatre that plied the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers a century ago. The play covers the life of Captain Andy, his wife, Parthy; their innocent daughter, Magnolia, who falls in love with Gaylord Ravenal, a dashing riverboat gambler who joins the show boat troupe as an actor; and the tragically fated Julie, a victim of the oppressive miscegenation laws of the period.
Show Boat's story spans a 40 year period, moving from the post-reconstruction of the Deep South in the 1880s to the world of Theodore Dreiser's industrialized Chicago all the way through the jazz age and the Roaring Twenties.
Director Harold Prince, when asked why after all these years of directing new musicals is now mounting a revival, said, "Well, Showboat is not just another American musical. First presented in 1927, it is the first great contemporary modern musical. The first to merge the traditional, happy go-lucky naivete of Broadway musical comedy with serious themes. The first with a score ranging from light-hearted, popular thirty-two bar songs to nineteenth century operetta and grand opera."
The scenic art for Show Boat is being done in Melbourne by the Scenic Studios company who received the 1996 Tony Award for set design for the revival of The King & I. The company has been painting the sets and was pleased to show your correspondent over the workshop. The Cotton Blossom show boat measures 25 ft tall and 5 ft wide and 48 ft long. The Molly Able towboat measures 4 ft wide, and 20 ft long. The boat's calliope is a real, steam-driven pipe organ built by the only current manufacturer in North America.
Eugene Lee's scenic design uses actual found objects including gas pumps, cotton weighing stations, real drinking fountains and fire hoses. The Palmer House Hotel revolving door was retrieved from Glasgow where it served as the entrance to the Bank of Scotland, while the bar in the saloon scene from a tavern in Connecticut.
The main characters include one of Australia's best known actors Barry Otto as Captain Andy; a lady who is synonymous with Australian musical theatre, Nancy Hayes as Parthy; star of the Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera Marina Prior as Magnolia; from the Queensland Theatre company and the Australian Opera, Peter Cousins as Gaylord Ravenal and Dan Tullis Jr. as Joe. Dan has a strong connection with Show Boat, having played in 11 productions including an extensive European tour.
Showboat docks at the Lyric Theatre on March 26. International Booking: 61 2 9266 4033. Australia Booking: 02 9266 4033 Group Bookings: 02 9266 4031.
--By Peter Kemp