A Show that Floats my Boat

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Bruce caricatureBruce the Blog Reviews Theater
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act


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Michael James Leslie (as Joe, center) and Ensemble perform “Ol’ Man River.”

Westchester Broadway Theatre calls its current production of Showboat, a landmark Broadway musical stuffed with tuneful standards, “Our most spectacular production in years!

The only thing that bothers me about that boast is they beat me to it!

I’ve seen a lot of the mainstage productions at this regional dinner-theatre and I couldn’t agree more. This impeccably staged two-plus hours of top-deck entertainment knows how to float your boat, as the admiring audience made clear at curtain call with waves of cheers.   

No sooner does this Showboat pull into dock than you are buoyed by the energy, talent and high-stepping professionalism that washes across the stage with every exquisitely-penned and expertly-delivered number. There are more of those in this historic musical than in any 10 lesser Broadway shows combined.


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The large cast of ‘Showboat.’

As long ago as Showboat was written and premiered — early 20th Century — part of its brilliant simplicity is that it feels fresh and full of life as ever.

From the poignant torch song “Bill” to the soaring romantic ballad “You Are Love” to the upbeat comic relief of “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” the unforgettable score by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II has legs longer than the bevy of Ziegfeld showgirls.

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Julie (Sarah Hanlon) center and Ensemble perform “Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine.”

Showboat enjoys a unique place in musical theater history. It is the first musical of note — produced by no less a legend than Florenz Ziegfeld himself — to depart from the lighter-than-air plots that defined musicals of the day.

Until Showboat paddled into town — to widespread acclaim from critics and theater-goers alike — the books (stories) written for musicals were as mind-numbing as “boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl.” (Think 42nd Street or Anything Goes.)

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Sarah Hanlon (as Julie Laverne) and Eric Briarley (as Steven Baker).

Showboat changed all that. Based on a novel by celebrated writer Edna Ferber (who also wrote “Giant” — movie starring James Dean — and “So Big”), it spans five decades and three generations of family, from the late 19th Century to the 1920s. Under the firm hand of director Richard Stafford, the staging is smart and dramatic at every turn, with the passage of years smoothly and clearly conveyed to the audience.

Subject matter previously considered out of bounds for a musical comedy– namely racial intolerance — is what anchors Showboat. We learn of mixed-race marriage, broken dreams, and abandonment, all handled tastefully, and with just enough gravitas to make a point and move swiftly ahead.

From the shores of the MIssissippi River to Chicago to Broadway, we see show folk, dock workers and others struggling, falling in and out of love, and staying one step ahead of the law.

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Amanda Pulcini (as Ellie May Chipley) and Daniel Scott Walton (as Frank Schultz) perform “Goodbye My Lady Love.”

There’s no heavy-handed preaching or self-righteous moralizing here. There’s also never a dull moment. Ultimate credit for striking a perfect balance of story, song and acting goes to Mr. Stafford, whose mounting of this classic is as accomplished as anything we’ve seen at this venue.

As rakish Gaylord Ravenal, a riverboat gambler who weds the daughter of the showboat’s Captain Andy, John Preator brings strong acting and a rapturous tenor.

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John Preator (as Gaylord Ravenal) and Bonnie Fraser (as Magnolia Hawks) Perform “Only Make Believe.”

The goosebumps come out when bass baritone Michael James Leslie (as dock worker Joe) stands center stage to sing “Ol’ Man River,” and bring down the house. It is a bravura performance that rings in your head long after the show ends.

Also deserving special mention is Jamie Ross as Cap’n Andy Hawks and Karen Murphy as his wife Parthy; Bonnie Fraser as their songstress daughter Magnolia; Amanda Pulcini and  Daniel Scott Walton as vaudevillian duo Ellie May and Frank Schultz; Inga Ballard as Joe’s wife Queenie; and Sarah Hanlon and Eric Briarley as showboat headliners Julie LaVerne and Steven Baker.

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The ensemble performs the Charleston


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar, also known as Bruce The Blog, is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner agency.  He also owns APAR All-Media, a Hudson Valley marketing agency that works with The Winery at St. George, Yorktown Feast of San Gennaro, Jefferson Valley Mall, Yorktown Stage, Axial Theatre, Armonk Players and others. Follow him on Hudson Valley WXYZ on Facebook, Twitter & YouTube. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Facts & Figures from Westchester Broadway Theatre

Reservations Call (914)-592-2222 Also at  www.BroadwayTheatre.com   

Group Reservations Discounts for Groups of 20 or More: Call 592-2225.

Luxury Boxes Call 592-8730, for private parties of 6 to 22. Enjoy dining and theatre in an elegant private box. Additional features include an expanded dinner menu, hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, private powder room, and Luxury Box reserved parking. Additional cost, call for details.    

Ticket Prices Dinner & Show range between $56 and $84 PLUS TAX depending on the performances chosen. Beverage Service & Gratuities are not included in the ticket price. Discounts are available for children, students, and senior citizens at selected performances. Also check the website for on-going Special Offers! More news at: www.BroadwayTheatre.com

WBT Mainstage Schedule

Showboat – Sept 24 to Nov 29 2015 and returns Dec 30 to Jan 31, 2016

Tim and Scrooge– Dec 3 to Dec 27

Always Patsy Cline – Feb 4 to Feb 28

Man Of La Mancha– Mar 3 to May 1

Happy Days – May 5 to July 17

The Million Dollar Quartet –July 21 to Sept 11

Saturday Night Fever – Sept 15 to Nov 2

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