Finally! A production has appeared at the New London Theatre that I want to see. Since I became a 'proper' theatre fan in 1982 - apart from the transfer from the National Theatre of WAR HORSE - the New London Theatre has been home to a run of shows that I would walk a mile in tight shoes to avoid, but now I could visit safe in the knowledge that I wouldn't be seeing a dud. To be honest the New London reminds me of any number of regional theatres I have been in - definitely a cross between Chichester and Sheffield with a similar 1970s feel of carpet and concrete. Nice big bar area though!
We saw and loved SHOW BOAT back in January in it's Sheffield home but now it is gracing the West End with it's glorious score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II and Evans' elegant production that guides you through the plot's decades. In the journey from Sheffield to London, the production has lost it's two male leads but this has not sunk the ship, in fact it has made it a smoother journey.
In Sheffield Michael Xavier played Gaylord, the raffish gambler who falls for heroine Magnolia, while Allan Corduner was the affable Cap'n Andy, owner of the Cotton Blossom Showboat but these they have been replaced by Broadway import Chris Peluso and the always-dependable Malcolm Sinclair respectively.
Xavier was better than the role to be honest - it gave him very little chance to shine as it is quite a strait-jacketed role but it suited Chris Peluso but dear God... all through the show, through whatever decade, the tab at the back of his boots stuck out from under his trouser hems - It was profoundly irritating! No such problems with Malcolm Sinclair who was a total delight as the hen-pecked but tender-hearted owner of the Cotton Blossom.
The strength of Evans' production is in the casting of the three central female roles: a majestic triumvirate of Gina Beck's sweet-natured Magnolia, Rebecca Trehearn's tragic Julie and Sandra Marvin's imperious Queenie with Trehearne coming out on top of them all thanks to having the two best songs in the score: "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" and "Bill".
Lucy Briers has grown in the role of Parthy Ann Hawks, the battle-axe of the Cotton Blossom and the good news is that Emmanuel Kojo is still toting barges and lifting bales as he belts out a passionate and emotive "Old Man River". I was particularly happy to see again the bendy dancing of Danny Collins as Frank Schultz who turns choreographer Alistair David's routines into something quite thrilling.
It was a huge delight to see this production again to enjoy Lez Brotherston's spare but evocative designs, David's physical choreography and Evans' direction that spills out into the auditorium at times.
SHOW BOAT was the show that in 1927 proved that a musical could be more than just a string of numbers and comedy scenes, it could actually tell a through story with characters you care for while also dealing with serious themes. If you have never seen it now is your chance to - and if you have, then see it again!