In Virginia, No Boat in Show Boat

PlayBlog   In Virginia, No Boat in Show Boat
Audiences attending productions of Show Boat over the past 80 years have applauded the appearance of the two-story title vessel, the "Cotton Blossom," which presents melodramas and musical interludes in river towns along the Mississippi. The massive set has always been part of the sprawling show's spectacle. But what happens when the classic Kern-Hammerstein musical is rethought for an intimate space that cannot accommodate traditional spectacle?

[caption id="attachment_2110" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Model of the Show Boat set"]Model of the <I>Show Boat</i> set[/caption]

In the case of Arlington, Virginia's Signature Theatre, which is reviving the 1927 classic starting in November, you simply cut the boat.

Artistic director Eric Schaeffer told, "When set designer Jim Kronzer and I began working on the design of the show, the first two words out of my mouth were 'No Boat!' …This was going to be a show about the people, their world and the river."

There will be no boat steaming in from the wings, then?

"The first thing I thought about when looking at the show was the environment itself," Schaeffer explained. "What would it be like to do Show Boat with no boat? …This production was going to be about a river: how a river changed people's lives forever. The river is what connects all of these people…every one of these characters is touched by the river.

"There was no need for a literal boat to create this world onstage. That's one of the wonderful things about Signature and what we can do with the intimacy of our space. …The audience becomes part of painting the picture and seeing the world through the characters' eyes."

And don't expect projections of illustrations or vintage photos of American show boats, either. Of course, there is a set in the Signature revival, but Schaeffer is taking a cue from "Cotton Bottom" impresario Capt. Andy, who would be the first to say, "Use your imagination, folks."

Schaeffer, whose troupe is known for imaginative revivals of classic musicals, said, "Perhaps one of the last musicals that anyone thought Signature Theatre would tackle would be Show Boat. With its sweeping story, large cast and orchestra as well as huge set requirements it would be hard to fit into our 276-seat Max Theatre. But for the 100th production of this [Tony Award-winning] company, we wanted it to be something special and I thought, 'what better way than to go back to the musical that started it all?'"


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