Review: ★★★★★ SHOW BOAT Is A Glorious And Enchanting Revival
| By Shaun Nolan
The West End seems to be having a massive influx of incredible revivals at the moment – be it Gypsy last year, Funny Girl this year or Sunset Boulevard over at the ENO – but no one expected a revival of a show to be quite as stellar as this one of Show Boat at the New London Theatre. The show itself (which was first performed over 90 years ago) is finally back in London in this glorious and enchanting production which makes a show that could feel old a dreary feel as grand as any other.
If seeing one of the first musicals ever written isn’t enough of a selling point for you, the incredible cast of this production will be. Wicked alum Gina Beck gives a heart-warming portrayl of Magnolia; she’s well known in the theatre community for her gorgeous voice and delightful personality, both of which she demonstrates here with perfection. Chris Peluso also returns to the London stage after his star turn in Miss Saigon to play Gaylord Ravenal. He’s handsome, charming and beautifully talented, very much like the majority of this cast. Other incredible leading cast standouts include Emmanuel Kojo, Sandra Marvin and the incredible Rebecca Trehearn, who I adore in everything she does. Thanks to the three of them and their fantastic performances, I continue to have 'Ol’ Man River', 'Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man' and 'Bill' stuck in my head to this day – someone get them on a cast album!
As I said already though, it’s the production values of this piece that really help to make this decidedly old text feel much more up to date and less dreary. Lez Brotherson has done a brilliant job in designing this show to look as transcendent as this revival feels; with a boat that’s used frequently as both a backdrop and a setting and raised walkways and signs that are used to change location, he’s crafted the stage to be both multi-purposeful and to be so much bigger than it really is. David Hersey’s lighting design should also be commended for that, if only for the bedsit that he creates for Magnolia to interact with Ellie May in: the room is just created by lighting the shape of it as a sort of projection on the stage – genius!
The choreography by Alistair David is also a delight to watch and with the hard work of this show’s incredible ensemble, the show feels bigger and bigger by the musical number. It’s fun, loud and actually quite artistically raw which makes it different to many other shows currently running in the West End, perhaps a testament that can be held to the incomparable Daniel Evans’ direction. He’s a man who is renowned for letting the work speak for itself and then inputting his creative decisions around that, so seeing the piece feels like watching a work of art in multiple different ways: not only is the score and book still intact and being presented to us as an audience in all its glory, being given the chance to shine, but the production itself is given that opportunity as well. There are touches on this revival in particular that make it a landmark production of the show and that’s as good of a reason as any to see it before it sails away this August.
Whether you like the true classics in musical theatre or not, this show is undeniably the crème de la crème of revivals and is as good if not better than the revivals we’ve been seeing come in from places like the Chichester Festival Theatre. Sheffield Crucible productions and revivals of the great classics are being put back on the map and Show Boat is a fantastic example of just that.