Show Boat, With Sarah Uriarte Berry and Ben Davis, Opens at Goodspeed Opera House

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27 Jul 2011

Andrea Frierson and David Aron Damane
Andrea Frierson and David Aron Damane
Photo by Diane Sobolewski

The intimate stage of Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT, is the dock for the usually massive musical Show Boat in a revised revival directed by Rob Ruggiero, opening July 27 for a run to Sept. 17. Previews for the imaginative take on the classic began July 1.

(The popular title has sold well since its announcement by the Tony Award-honored theatre located on the edge of the Connecticut River, and a week of performances was added early in the run.)

The 1927 musical romance about the extended family connected to a Mississippi floating playhouse, circa 1890-1927, is based on the novel by Edna Ferber, and features book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and music by Jerome Kern.

Ruggiero explained in director's notes, "Our version of Show Boat is based on the 1946 published script, but we have made — with the support and approval of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization — some adjustments, edits, and changes specific to the Goodspeed production. Show Boat has never been performed the same way twice — it's a piece of theatre that has always invited interpretation and choice. In addition, we faced specific challenges with producing Show Boat at Goodspeed: the size of cast we could accommodate on stage and the limited amount of physical stage space available to perform the show. Certain changes we made reflect necessary adjustments that serve both those challenges…"

He added, "I really wanted to focus our production on the story of this show business family. I found particular inspiration in both the novel and 1936 movie as I searched for authenticity. This Show Boat will hopefully be more intimate and story centric, possibly one of the most intimate Show Boat productions to date."



Ruggiero also revealed this: "One of the most exciting and original changes will be found in how we are approaching the top of Act Two. With the support and approval of R&H, Alice Hammerstein, and the Ferber estate I was invited to present an alternative solution to this section in particular. Our Show Boat combines and re-structures existing materials in a new and original way."

Lenny Wolpe and Karen Murphy
photo by Diane Sobolewski

(When Harold Prince revived the show in the 1990s, he did away with the famous Act Two opening at the Chicago World's Fair, muting the usually lavish "Why Do I Love You?" and turning it into a lullaby sung by Parthy to her infant granddaughter.)

David Aron Damane, whose Broadway credits include The Life and the revival of Big River, plays Joe, the post-Reconstruction African-American stevedore who labors on the Cotton Blossom, cooing with his lady, Queenie (Andrea Frierson), and ruminating about the indifference of "Ol' Man River."

The company also boasts Sarah Uriarte Berry as Magnolia, Ben Davis as Gaylord Ravenal, Lesli Margherita as Julie, Karen Murphy as Parthy, Lenny Wolpe as Capt. Andy, Danny Gardner as Frank, Jennifer Knox as Ellie and Madeleine Berry as Kim.

The famous score features "Cotton Blossom," "You Are Love," "Make Believe," "Can't Help Lovin' That Man of Mine," "Why Do I Love You" and "Life Upon the Wicked Stage."

The musical broke ground by introducing serious story elements — racism, miscegenation, spousal abandonment — into the genre of musical comedy.

Director Ruggiero recently staged High and Looped on Broadway, and previously staged 1776, Annie Get Your Gun and Camelot for Goodspeed. Noah Racey, the Broadway actor of Curtains and Never Gonna Dance, choreographs.

Berry appeared in Broadway's The Light in the Piazza, Taboo, Beauty and the Beast and Les Misérables; Davis' Broadway credits include A Little Night Music, Les Misérables, La Bohème and Thoroughly Modern Millie; Margherita is an Olivier Award winner for Zorro in London; Wolpe starred in Broadway's Wicked and The Drowsy Chaperone; Frierson's Broadway credits include Marie Christine and The Lion King; Murphy is a Broadway veteran of 42nd Street, A Little Night Music and 9 to 5.

The ensemble includes Paule Aboite, Kyle E. Baird, Elizabeth Ann Berg, Robert Hannon Davis, Elise Kinnon, Denise Lute, A'Lisa Miles, Robert Lance Mooney, Rob Richardson, Greg Roderick, Jet Thomason, David Toombs, Mollie Vogt-Welch, Richard Waits, Nicholas Ward, with swings Belle Doraz, Adam Fenton Goddu and Christiana Rodi.

The creative team includes Michael Schweikardt (scenic designer), who does create a boat in the scenic design, despite Goodspeed's tiny stage; Amy Clark (costume designer), John Lasiter (lighting designer), Jay Hilton (sound designer), Michael O'Flaherty (music director), F. Wade Russo (assistant music director), Dan DeLange (orchestrations). Show Boat is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.

Show Boat was first staged on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Dec. 27, 1927, and ran for 572 performances. It was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld and starred Norma Terris as Magnolia. (Goodspeed's second stage in Chester, CT, is named after Terris.) The show was remounted at the Casino Theatre on May 19, 1932, and ran for 180 performances. In 1946, a revival of Show Boat played the Ziegfeld Theatre for 418 performances; this script/score is the official and most-licensed version of the property.

Show Boat played 73 performances at Broadway's Uris Theatre in 1983. A revised version of the musical, directed by Harold Prince, played the Gershwin Theatre starting in 1994. It played 947 performances and starred Elaine Stritch, Rebecca Luker and John McMartin, and spawned a national tour.

Tickets are available through the Box Office at (860) 873-8668 or at www.goodspeed.org.