Show Boat – Broadway Revival Cast Recording 1946
Following the Overture, the curtain goes up on the colorful display of elegant Southern belles and their beaux admiring the arrival of the old show boat (named “Cotton Blossom”), while black workers unload bales of cotton. In Natchez, Mississippi, about 1890, the show boat, a popular attraction, brings with it one of the rare forms of entertainment available in those pioneer days. Among the star performers, introduced by Cap’n Andy, all-round impresario and owner of the floating theatre, are Julie La Verne and Steve Baker, a husband-and-wife team who are the romantic leads in the production, and secondary characters Ellie and Frank, introduced respectively as “the toast of Cairo, Illinois,” and a villain “stuck on Ellie.” During the presentation, Pete, a worker on the boat who loves Julie, creates an incident when he tries to kiss her. Cap’n Andy pretends to the crowd that these occurrences are excerpts from a play in progress, and then fires Pete. Among the onlookers is Gaylord Ravenal, a dashing young man who is also a notorious gambler. Ravenal, who has been given twenty-four hours to leave town where he is persona non grata, is looking at the show boat as a possible means of transportation to other more hospitable shores, when his eyes meet Magnolia, Andy’s daughter, and a ravishing juvenile. She is captivated, he is smitten, and they reveal their nascent emotions in a roundabout way that will not betray how they feel (“Make Believe”). Contrasting these feelings, in another corner by the bank of the river, Joe, an old black man, philosophizes about the meaning of his life and that of his companions in misery (“Ol’ Man River”). Magnolia confides to Julie that she is in love, and the actress, aware from personal experience of the dangers that might exist when one falls for the wrong man, tries to warn her young friend, all the while knowing that when you fall no amount of advice will help (“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”). Ouside a saloon, Ellie explains to a group of excited fans that the world of the theatre is not all that it’s touted to be (“Life upon the Wicked Stage”). That evening, the sheriff interrupts the performance: he has been tipped off by Pete that Julie is a half-breed married to a white man. On hearing this, Steve claims also to have Negro blood. Andy suddenly finds himself without his romantic leads and is only too glad when Ravenal joins the cast with Magnolia as his partner. On stage and off, Gaylord continues his courtship of Magnolia (“You Are Love”). Over the objections of Parthy, Andy’s wife, he and Magnolia are married during a performance of the play within the musical. The scene switches to 1893 in Chicago, where the World’s Columbian Exposition is attracting record crowds. Magnolia and Gaylord, still very much in love (“Why Do I Love You?”), are now the parents of a girl, Kim. But all is not as it appears to be: Gaylord has gambled away everything he had. To stop from further hurting Magnolia, he decides to step out of her life. Magnolia is devastated; unable to cope financially, she slowly sinks into the grim, joyless existence of a pauper. Coincidentally, Frank and Ellie, whose career has been on the upswing, arrive in Chicago for a New Year’s performance. When they see Magnolia, they tell her she should audition for a singing job at a club where they are to appear. The main attraction there is Julie, now alone and looking much older and tired (“Bill”). When she recognizes Magnolia, who has come for the audition but who has not seen her, Julie discreetly steps away and fades into oblivion. The years have passed. Magnolia, now a popular singing star, has turned the Cotton Blossom, a relic of the past, into a house, comfortably moored in Natchez. That’s where a repentant Ravenal finds her, as the curtain falls. In the original production, shortly before this last scene, Norma Terris, who played Magnolia, did a series of imitations of well-known stars of the 1920s, which was one of her specialties. In the 1946 revival, the spot was turned over to Jan Clayton as Kim, who was given a new song, “Nobody Else but Me,” heard on this recording.
– Didier C. Deutsch
Magnolia: Jan Clayton Julie: Carol Bruce Gaylord Ravenal: Charles Fredericks Joe: Kenneth Spencer Ellie: Colette Lyons Queenie: Helen Dowdy Steve: Robert Allen Pete: Seldon Bennett Parthy Ann Hawks: Ethel Owen Cap’n Andy: Ralph Dumke Frank: Buddy Ebsen Kim (as a young woman): Jan Clayton Music by Jerome Kern Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (“Bill” by P.G. Wodehouse) Orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Edwin McArthur