Friday, November 23, 2012




Date Composed:

This show opened on Broadway in 1927 and had already appeared on film twice, in 1929 and 1936.
MGM’s production of Show Boat was a lavish, technicolor affair that mostly disappointed critics and fans of the original story.


“It is my opinion that the musical numbers 
should carry the action of the play 
and should be representative of the 
personalities of the characters who sing them.”
Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern was born in New York City on January 27, 1885.  He studied piano with his mother and in high school was often asked to play piano and organ and compose music for school theatrical productions. 

Kern enrolled in the New York College of Music in 1902 and in 1903 went abroad to study music in Germany. He took up permanent residence in London, where he began writing songs for British musical hall productions.  A year later, he returned to New York, taking jobs with music publishers; writing musical interpolations for British shows.  

In 1915 Kern began writing musicals for the Princess Theater in New York. These productions, "Nobody Home," "Very Good Eddie," "Oh Boy!," and "Oh Lady! Lady!!," were distinguished by a new approach to musical theater (replacing the musical revue format with unrelated numbers strung together) developed by Kern in collaboration with librettist Guy Bolton, and, beginning in 1917, the talents of lyricist P. G. Wodehouse. This new format had a more coherent story, more sophisticated songs, and characters that were more believable and realistic. 

"Showboat" became the first American musical with a serious plot drawn from a literary source; it represents a landmark in the history of musical theater and due in part to this musical he has won general recognition as the father of the American musical theater as we know it today. 

In the 1940's Kern moved to Hollywood and devoted the rest of his career to writing music for films. In 1946 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released a lavish musical film biography of Kern, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, with appearances by Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, and other stars.

Hammerstein (1895-1960) was born into a prominent theatrical family.   He collaborated with prominent composers such as Rudolph Friml ("Rose Marie"Sigmund Romberg ("The Desert Song") and Jerome Kern.  Later, he was most known for his collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers in the following musicals:

Oklahoma! (1943)
Carousel (1945)
South Pacific (1949)
The King & I (1951)  
The Sound of Music (1959)

Historical event, story, and/or novel on which this 
musical is based:
Author of the original story or novel on which this   
musical is based:

Ferber was a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, short story writer and playwright born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on August 15, 1885.  She was raised in often precarious economic circumstances in small towns in Iowa and Wisconsin and used her novels to explore America's range of distinctive and evocative regional cultures. She always identified with the lives of ordinary working people, believing that they had "a kind of primary American freshness and assertiveness."

Ferber's novels generally featured strong female protagonists, although she fleshed out multiple characters in each book. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty persons have the best character.

She won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1924 book So Big, which was made into a silent film. 

Depicts the lives and loves of a troupe of performers that work under the command of Captain Andy on the Cotton Blossom.

In the end of the Nineteenth Century, the show boat "Cotton Blossom" owned by Captain Andy Hawks flies along the rivers in the South with the lead stars Julie LaVerne and her husband Stephen Baker and musical entertainment. When Julie and Stephen are accused of miscegenation, they have to leave the boat, and Captain Hawk's daughter Magnolia and the gambler Gaylord Ravenal take their places. They fall in love for each other, get married and move to Chicago, living in a fancy and expensive hotel. Magnolia soon faces reality quickly, that gambling means more to Gaylord than anything else.  When Julie la Verne and her husband Steve Baker are forced to leave the showboat Cotton Blossom (their marriage is illegal because of Julies mixed blood),their places are taken by Magnolia Hawks, the Captains daughter, and Gaylord Ravenal, a gambler. Magnolia and Ravenal fall in love, marry, leave the boat and move to Chicago, where they live off Ravenals earnings from gambling. After they go broke Gay feels guilty and leaves Magnolia, not knowing she is pregnant.Show Boat' is considered one of America's classic musicals. Written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II - the show opened on Broadway in 1927. The plot chronicles the lives of those living and working on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River Showboat, from 1880 to 1927. 

This is a musical about life on a Mississippi River gambling boat. One of the performers on the boat is a mulatto woman trying to pass as white. The story revolves around her romance with a white man. Alcohol abuse and gambling addiction are problems for the characters. It is not a passenger boat, but simply a boat that performs musical entertainment to towns along the Mississippi River. 

Show Boat is often characterized in terms of superlatives: the first modern American musical, the most influential Broadway musical, and even the greatest American musical. Written at a time when most shows consisted of little more than thin plots and catchy tunes, Show Boat became a touchstone for the musical as we now know it -- a cohesive dramatic presentation in which the music becomes a vehicle for the development of character and action. 

Where the story takes place:
(ex: name of city, country, etc.)
On the Mississippi RIver

Name possible clues in the movie that tell you this   
(ex: farm, big city, slums, affluent neighborhood,  etc.)
Mississippi River, Cotton Fields, Big City

Setting of the story:
Paddle Boat (called the "Cotton Blossom") on the Mississippi River

Time frame the story takes place in:
Late 1800's
Name possible clues in the movie that tell you the 
time frame:
(ex: style of clothes and hair, types of transportation, modern inventions,  etc.)       
Paddle Boats on the river

Names of main characters and short descriptions of 
(ex: John Smith-salesman, Mary Smith-wife of John Smith, etc.

Major Characters:
Stagestruck Magnolia Hawks, daughter of the show boat's owner Cap'n Andy.  She is sweet and innocent. 
Katheryn Grayson

her stage name (or alias) is Julie La Verne. She is a singing actress on the show boat of mixed race, who sacrifices her job as headliner at a Chicago nightclub to allow Magnolia her big break. Julie is married to Steve Baker, and both are actors on the show boat Cotton Blossom. However, they harbor a secret - Julie is partly African-American, and Steve is white; therefore, according to the laws in effect at that time, their marriage is illegal. They are an exceptionally close couple, and Steve is fiercely protective of her. Julie is also a close friend and surrogate mother figure to ten year old Magnolia Hawks, daughter of Cap'n Andy Hawks, the show boat's owner. Andy is married to the shrewish Parthy Ann, who disapproves of all actors, especially Julie. Julie, the mulatto whose life spirals into the gutter after she is barred from the show boat 
Ava Gardiner
star attraction of the show, Julie (Ava Gardener), which raises social issues. Julie is mixed-race but her husband is white, thus breaking the miscegenation laws. Poor Julie's plight, just like the plight of the black slaves that workthe cotton fields, is doomed to misery. 

MGM chose to dub Ava Gardiner's voice with soprano Annette Warren for the film 

Ava Gardner 's own voice singing "Can't Help Lovin' That Man" before being dubbed.

"Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" dubbed version by soprano Annette Warren:

 gamblerGaylord Ravenal, a dashing young man who is also an irresponsible gambler, He is a compulsive riverboat gambler, and he becomes leading man of the show boat Cotton Blossom at the same time that Magnolia Hawks, the captain's daughter, becomes the leading lady.
Howard Keel


Cap'n Andy Hawks and his wife Parthenia (Parthy), owners of the show boat.

Joe E. Brown

Supporting Characters:
Marge Champion
Gower Champion
Husband of Julie La Verne
Robert Sterling
Mother of Magnolia; Cap'n Andy Hawks and his wife Parthenia (Parthy) owners of the show boat. shrewish Parthy Ann disapproves of all actors, especially Julie.
Agnes Moorehead


Leif Erikson


William Warfield
so named because she was born on the river at the intersection of Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri


Inner messages within the story (ex: morals, ethics,
etc.) and explain the message you think the author
of the movie (or story) is trying to convey:
One of the great things about the American Musical Theater is that difficult or controversial  issues are not ignored or censored, but become the primary themes of the the work.  This marvelous tradition started with the first production of “Showboat.” In the case of “Showboat” there are two issues.  One is prejudice against a mulatto attempting to cross the color line by marrying a white person (miscegenation).  The second is  marital fidelity and desertion (Steve will not leave Julie, and Gaylord Ravenal deserts Magnolia).

The black characters are not stereotypical typical of that time.  Also, “Showboat” was the first racially integrated musical. The black chorus of the musical gives enlightening commentary on the action.  The white chorus is not near as perceptive.

deals with racism, mixed marriage and marital abandonment (subjects that had been taboo in musicals)
Show Boat, which tackled the theme of interracial marriage, also addressed the issue of social constraints.The show's dominant themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love.One of the performers on the boat is a mulatto woman trying to pass as white. The story revolves around her romance with a white man. Alcohol abuse and gambling addiction are problems for the characters.

dysfunctional romantic relationships
interracial marriage
alcohol abuse

That first-night audience saw the white folks' playhouse, the show boat, where blacks couldn't play — a fact soon to be made explicit in the text when a member of the Cotton Blossom troupe (Julie LaVerne, played by Helen Morgan, above, in the stage production and in the 1936 film) is exposed as a woman of mixed race and expelled from the show boat community.  All the while, the music of black America pervades the playhouse, shapes the entertainment offered there.
Personal opinion:
(your ENJOYMENT factor: why you liked or disliked the musical)

Personal opinion on the QUALITY OF THE ARTISTRY in this musical:
(ex: how well acted, quality of the singing voice(s), cinematography,  memorable melodies,etc.)

Terms or phrases used in the movie that are new,
unusual to you, and/or not often used:

Aesop's Fables
Demi-mondy role
young girls, or a women who are not married
when people of different races have an intimidate personal relationship or have children together

Mississippi River 

a word for someone with one black parent and one white parent, which is now usually considered offensive
someone who you have a romantic relationship with, but who you are not married to
a man who believes that pleasure is the most important thing in life
Seventh Heaven
floating playhouses, which brought theatre to towns along the great rivers of the United States
are a singularly American phenomenon.

Route of a Mississippi Showboat
Stage Door Johnnies

Stevedore, dockworker, docker, dock laborer, wharfie and longshoreman can have various waterfront-related meanings concerning loading and unloading ships, according to place and country.
The word stevedore originated in Portugal or Spain, and entered the English language through its use by sailors. It started as a phonetic spelling of estivador (Portuguese) or estibador (Spanish), meaning a man who stuffs, here in the sense of a man who loads ships, which was the original meaning of stevedore

Song Titles:

(hint: listen for repeated words or phrases in the song and guess the name of 
the song if you don’t know the name)

Act I 


This is the original overture, as heard in the 1927 Broadway production and all productions until the 1946 revival when it was replaced by a more commercial medley of hits. Dark and brooding, it properly foreshadows the dramatic story soon to unfold. A prominent feature in the overture is the long neglected chorale "Mis'ry's Coming Around" which was cut out of town, much to the dismay of the composer

In the 1951 movie the overture is replaced by:

and an instrumental version of 


Stevedores and Townspeople (dancers)

Cap'n Andy and Chorus
Gaylord and Magnolia 

It reveals that they are smitten with each other almost immediately upon meeting and sets the tone for the contrasts between the ideal “make believe” world of the young lovers and the harsh realities of life that they will encounter throughout the story.
Julie, Queenie, Joe, Magnolia and Ensemble


(reprise #1)
Ellie, Frank and Girls

Chorus with orchestra
Julie Leaves the Boat


Joe and Stevedores

expresses the African American hardship and struggles of the time with the endless, uncaring flow of the Mississippi River;The song is notable for several aspects: the lyrical pentatonic-scale melody, the subjects of toil and social class, metaphor to the Mississippi, and as a bass solo (rare in musicals, solos for baritones or tenorsbeing more common).The great classic “Old Man River” is a moving protest song ~ ~ “There’s an old man called the Mississippi,  That’s an old man that I want to be.  What does he care if the world has troubles? What does he care if the land ain’t free?”  ~~ not even in 1887 when the action of the musical takes place.
Added information:

Act II
(montage sequence)
Chorus with orchestra
Gaylord and Magnolia

Added information:
Magnolia, Gaylord, Cap'n Andy, Parthy, and Company 

(lyrics by P. G. Wodehouse and revised by Hammerstein) 

The song "Bill" from Show Boat is one of the most famous examples of a "trunk song": Jerome Kern had written it for a musical in 1918, it was cut from that show and one other, and Kern interpolated it into Show Boat in 1927. It works, in part, because in the second act of Show Boat most of the "show-within-a-show" numbers are real songs from the period, and the slightly old-fashioned sound of "Bill" (in a gentler style that Kern had abandoned for a richer sound) sounds about right as an example of something Julie might have been singing in her stage career.
To put the song into Show Boat, though, Kern rewrote the music a little bit, which required Oscar Hammerstein to add some new lyrics to P.G. Wodehouse's original.
1936 version sung by the famous Helen Morgan
(reprise #2)

Added information:


The 1890s witnessed the emergence of a commercial popular music industry in the United States. Sales of sheet music, enabling consumers to play and sing songs in their own parlors, skyrocketed during the “Gay Nineties,” led by Tin Pan Alley, the narrow street in midtown Manhattan that housed the country’s major music publishers and producers. Although Tin Pan Alley was established in the 1880s, it only achieved national prominence with the first “platinum” song hit in American music history—Charles K. Harris’s “After the Ball”—that sold two million pieces of sheet music in 1892 alone. “After the Ball’s” sentimentality ultimately helped sell over five million copies of sheet music, making it the biggest hit in Tin Pan Alley’s long history. Typical of most popular 1890s tunes, the song was a tearjerker, a melodramatic evocation of lost love.
Captain Andy (dance)
dance on that same stage for Cap'n Andy and his four year old granddaughter, Kim Ravenal

(partial reprise)


Gaylord and Kim

In the 1951 film, instead of singing it to Kim just before he leaves, Ravenal sings it to her when he meets her for the first time after being away for several years - the exact reverse of the situation in the original show and the 1936 film version. He has finally returned and now asks her to pretend that he has never been away.

Joe and chorus
William Warfield 1951 version:

1936 version sung by the famous Paul Robeson:

Added information:


During its seventy-year history, "Showboat" has been filmed three times and 
given several major New York revivals.
Watch the entire 1936 movie version on line:

[brushing Pete's clothes off immediately after his fistfight with Steve] Please, Mister Pete, don't go gettin' yourself all riled up over things. Besides, Mister Steve and Miss Julie, they gotta play performances here.

Yeah? Well I know a thing or two; we'll see how many performances they play in this town!

Pride is smaller than kindness.


It's Saturday night again! [He slaps Parthy affectionately on her rear end]
Oh! It's Wednesday night and don't you strike me!
It's Saturday night forever!

Yes, and Fourth of July... and Christmas... and 

[imitating Cap'n Andy when he celebrates New Year's Eve] 
Hap - - -py New Year!

[borrowing Magnolia's jewels so that he can pawn them] 

Don't worry darling, it's only temporary. I'll get them back for you.
Everything can be temporary - -except us.

(hearing of Magnolia's engagement to Gaylord) Son, I hope it's not Saturday night one minute, with a cold Monday morning to follow. Whatever happens, Nollie, always remember to smile.

[to Gaylord] I know there's no other woman... no flesh-and-blood woman. But I can't fight this Lady Luck of yours, this fancy queen in her green felt dress.

Mister... if you ever get to see Nollie, not get together with her I mean, but- if you ever do get to talk to her, don't ever tell her you saw me; I mean, don't ever tell her you saw me like this.

Julie, nothing's changed.

[embracing Magnolia] Oh Nollie, Nollie, always true! Stay happy now.

How are your others?

Huh? What's that, honey?

Your other bets! 
Yesterday's and last night's and all those "one last round before we break it up" bets! 
Were they just as good?