“Show Boat” by Edna Ferber
The musical theatre nerd in me has been in love with “Show Boat” since the 1995 Tony Awards. After their spectacular performance of “Kim’s Charleston,” (which I wish hadn’t been taken down from youtube) I bought the cast recording and learned all the songs and loved it, loved it, loved it.
Yet, I’ve never seen a full production of it. (Set and Cast requirements make it a beast, and impossible for most groups to produce.)
Fast forward to 2012 – The Lyric Opera of Chicago is about to open a big ol’ production of the show featuring a cast of 80 and an orchestra of 40. Happily, I’m to attend the show with dear Bob from the best darn theatre blog in Chicago, ChicagoTheatreAddict.
Anyway – it’s based off a novel, and I figured it was high time I actually read the book. This turned out to be harder than I thought for some reason – most of Edna Ferber’s writings are available online and, at Project Gutenberg, free. Not “Show Boat.” After searching all over, I wound up ordering a used copy off Amazon (don’t kill me, indiebound) for $5.00. A new copy of the same edition would have cost me $200.00. I have no idea why.
Happily, it was worth the search.
Edna Ferber’s “Show Boat” is a real gem of a novel. Centered on Magnolia Hawks, the daughter of a show boat captain and his uptight wife, the book follows the Hawks as they take over a boat called the Cotton Blossom. From there, they sail the rivers performing their shows with their lively collection of actors and crew members. Magnolia is plucky and eager and an interesting and well-developed heroine, who grows up, takes to the stage, and falls in love with a gambler. After they marry, leave the showboat life, and have a daughter, things go all to hell. It’s the epic drama of a lifetime, and it reminded me a little of “The Thorn Birds.” (That’s a compliment, by the by.)
Please note, this book is a product of it’s place and time – namely, 1926. What was politically correct back in the day isn’t so cool anymore. Be prepared for a certain derogatory term to get a whole lot of play. That’s just how it was.
I’m so excited to see the Lyric Opera production of “Show Boat” on Sunday. There are some amazing talents taking part in the show, and it should be absolutely astonishing. I’ll report back with a book to stage comparison, which should be a lot of fun. (Let me tell you, right off the bat there are two BIG differences.)
If you can track down a copy of this one, you’d probably enjoy it. I did.