Opera San Luis Obispo’s upcoming production of Show Boat at the PAC promises to enliven the second weekend in May with iconic numbers like “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Ol’ Man River.”
Despite being produced by an opera company, Show Boat isn’t an opera, exactly. Based on Edna Ferber’s novel of the same name, Jerome Kern’s 1927 masterpiece is widely considered to be the first book musical, with aforementioned book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (later of Rogers and Hammerstein). Kern had to promise producer Florenz Ziegfeld three musical comedy “vehicles” for his then-paramour, Marilyn Miller, in exchange for the serious gamble Ziegfeld was taking on Show Boat. When the curtain fell on opening night, nobody in the audience applauded—they sat in polite silence, then left. Kern and Ziegfeld were devastated, convinced they had a flop on their hands, but the reviews that came out the next morning proved otherwise. The audience hadn’t hated it, they just hadn’t known what to do at the end of a musical that wasn’t a comedy … because they had never seen one before. Show Boat became an instant classic.
Opera SLO’s production is a collaborative effort across county arts organizations. Brian Asher Alhadeff, Opera SLO’s artistic and general director, will conduct; Civic Ballet’s Drew Silvaggio will choreograph; and Erik Austin of Kelrik Productions will direct for the stage. The Morro Bay High School choirs will also be featured in the production, whose leads include several imports—Kristin Towers-Rowles as Magnolia, whose grandmother played the role in the 1951 film (a controversial version that diverges significantly from the original), Craig McEldowney as Gaylord Ravenal, and Erika Bowman as Queenie, all Los Angeles-based. Local favorites Larry Kami and Sandy Schwarer will play Cap’n Andy and Parthy Ann. And in the role of Joe will be Dan Tullis, who has played the part in more than 20 productions internationally, as well as portraying Paul Robeson in a stage play about the life of this well-known interpreter of the role.
Show Boat runs May 10 at 7 p.m. and May 11 at 2 p.m. at the Cal Poly PAC’s Christopher Cohan Center. Tickets range from $10 to $75 and are available at pacslo.org or by calling 756-4849. Don’t miss the boat.