Since Francesca Zambello assumed the directorship of New York’s Glimmerglass Festival in 2011, an American musical, performed by operatic voices has been one of each festival’s four MainStage offerings. This year, Zambello’s well-traveled “Show Boat” production, arrived at the Glimmerglass Festival to take its place as 2019’s musical.
“Show Boat” (1927) is an historically important musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammestein II, whose plot covers a 40 year period between 1880 and 1920. It begins on the Cotton Blossom, a steamship that cruises the Mississippi River, stopping at river towns to perform theatrical productions.
We meet five pairs of lovers – Magnolia Hawkes and Gaylord Ravenal; Cap’n Andy and Parthenia Hawkes; Joe and Queenie; Ellie Mae Shipley and Frank Schultz, and Julie LaVerne and Steve Baker. Selected events in their lives during the 40 years form the basis of the musical.
Lauren Snouffer’s Magnolia Hawkes and Michael Adams’ Gaylord Ravenal
The principal love interest is a “love at first sight” meeting between Magnolia Hawkes – the daughter the Cotton Blossom’s owners, Andy and Parthy Hawkes – and a compulsive gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, who is at times a person of interest with local law enforcement.
[Below: Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Adams, front right) is noticed by Magnolia Hawkes (Lauren Snouffer, upper deck, left); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Texas soprano Lauren Snouffer and Texas baritone Michael Adams were an attractive couple who sing Make Believe, the first of the opera’s series of blockbuster hits, with passion.
[Below: an intimate moment between Gaylord Ravenal (Michael Adams, left) and Magnolia Hawkes (Lauren Snouffer, right); edited image, based on a Conner Lange photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Justin Hopkins’ Joe and Judith Skinner’s Queenie
“Show Boat’s” African-American husband and wife Joe and Queenie were performed by Pennnsylvania bass Justin Hopkins and New York contralto Judith Skinner.
Justin Hopkins brilliantly performed the role of Joe, an African-American character whose inherent dignity and humanity had no precedent in American musicals. Joe’s Ol’ Man River is not only “Show Boat’s” best known and most beloved melody, but is one of the most enduring American songs from the 1920s.
[ Below: Justin Hopkins as Joe; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Fesitval.]
Judith Skinner presented another of her vivid portraits of strong women, her Queenie rising above the insults of the era’s legal and institutional racism.
[Below: Queenie (Judith Skinner, front, center right, wearing red bandana) sings of the misery coming around; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
I had admired Judith Skinner’s Glimmerglass performances two seasons ago of two other formidable women – as Maria [Review: Glimmerglass Festival “Porgy and Bess”: Ngqungwana, Trevigne Lead Strong Cast for New Zambello Production – July 13, 2017] and as Aunt Eller Review: Glimmerglass Festival’s Rip-Roaring “Oklahoma!” – July 14, 2017].
Lara Teeters’ Cap’n Andy and Klea Blackhurst’s Parthy Ann
Oklahoma actor Lara Teeters and Utah actor Klea Blackhurst, veterans of the legitimate stage, were amusing in the comic roles of the Cotton Blossom’s owner Cap’n Andy and his puritanical wife, Parthenia.
[Below: an affectionate moment between Cap’n Andy (Lara Teeters, left) and his wife Parthy (Klea Blackhurst, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Alyson Cambridge’s Julie LaVerne and Charles H. Eaton’s Steve Baker
District of Columbia mezzo-soprano Alyson Cambridge performed the role of Julie LaVerne, a Cotton Blossom headliner. Cambridge performed Julie’s most memorable numbers Can’t Stop Loving That Man of Mine and Just Plain Bill with spirit.
In “Show Boat’s” most shocking plot point, Julie was the daughter of an African-American mother, making her marriage to a Caucasian man, Steve Baker, illegal in several states with anti-miscegenation laws through which the Cotton Blossom passed.
Connecticut baritone Charles H. Eaton played Julie’s husband Steve Baker, who ingested some of Julie’s blood from a cut to prevent the miscegenation laws from applying to themselves.
[Below: Julie La Verne (Alyson Cambridge, left) rehearases her Trocadero night club number with Jake the Pianist (Grant Wenaus, right); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Although the character of Steve Baker disappears by the second act in which Julie performs at Chicago’s Trocadero night club, Eaton takes on the role of the Trocadero nightclub manager, Max.
[Below: the Trocadero manager Max (Charles H. Eaton, right) expresses displeasure with the reliability of Julie LaVerne (Alyson Cambridge, right) as performer; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Abigail Paschke’s Ellie Mae Shipley, Schyler Vargas’ Frank Schultz and other cast members
As the Cotton Blossom’s “second string” performers, New York soprano Abigail Paschke and Colorado baritone Schyler Vargas memorably portrayed Ellie Mae Shipley and Schyler Vargas.
[Below: Ellie Mae Shipley (Abigail Paschke, left) and Frank Schultz (Schyler Vargasm right) show off their Show Boat costumes and routines to the delight of Capn Andy (Lara Teeters, on dock, center) and Queenie (Judith Skinner, on boat, left) and Magnolia (Lauren Snouffer, on boat, on boat, center); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Louisiana tenor Kameron Lopreore was Sheriff Vallon. Canadian operatic coach Grant Wenaus was Jake. Connecticut tenor Spencer Hamlin was Pete.
The stevedores were played by Jawan Cliff-Morris (New York). Edward Graves (District of Columbia) and Camron Gray (Tennessee).
[Below: As Joe (Justin Hopkins, center) sings about the Mississippi River, the Cotton Blossom stevedores join him; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The working girls were sung by Mia Athey (Maryland), Shanel Bailey (New York), Danielle Jackman (Georgia), Brea Renetta Marshall (Texas) and Imara Miles (Maryland).
[Below: The working gals, along with the stevedores, do muchof the work that keeps the Show Boat operating; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Joanna Latini (New Jersey), Maxwell Levy (New York), Katherine Maysek (Massachusetts) and Kayla Siembieda (Minnesota) each played multiple parts.
California dancer Haley Ayers was Teen Kim. Other “Show Boat” dancers included Tucker Reed Breder (Pennsylvania), Spencer Britten (British Columbia), Rachel Kay (California), Joshua Kring (Texas) and Jorell Lawyer-Jefferson (Germany).
South Carolina choreographer Eric Sean Fogel, the Glimmerglass Festival Movement and Choreography Director, created the dances.
[Below: a New Year’s Eve dance routine at the Trocadero night club; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Maestro James Lowe and the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus
New York Maestro James Lowe led the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra (and the chorus, which contained large numbers of the season’s Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists), authoritatively.
Francesca Zambello’s Production and E. Loren Meeker’s Revival Direction
Francesca Zambello’s production of Jerome Kern’s historic musical “Show Boat” was first performed at Chicago’s Lyric Opera [See Team Zambello Shows off “Show Boat” to Chicago’s Lyric Opera – March 14, 2012 (with a cast that included Alyson Cambridge as Julie).
Revival director E. Loren Meeker successfully transferred the production, designed for larger American opera houses to the smaller stage of the Glimmerglass Festival’s Alice Busch Theater.
The 92 year old musical “Show Boat”, the groundbreaking Jerome Kern – Oscar Hammerstein II collaboration, was the first American musical to give a sympathetic voice to African-American characters.
It was instructive to include “Show Boat” in the same Glimmerglass Festival season as the world premiere of the Jeanine Tesori – Tazewell Thompson opera “Blue”, all of whose characters are sympathetically treated African-Americans.
I strongly recommend that opera-goers and American musical fans who have not seen a live performances of Show Boat” presented by an opera company do so and suggest the Glimmerglass Festival production provides an excellent introduction to the musical
I recommend additionally that persons able to schedule both the Glimmerglass Festival performances of “Show Boat” and “Blue”, whose themes complement each other, to do so.