Show Boat has recently sailed into the West End to the New London Theatre after a successful run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. It’s been open since April, and recently hit the headlines for both its five star reviews and for announcing a four months premature closing.
However, as a theatre lover, despite having not even heard of it until I’d seen posters plastered across London, I was rather excited to be seeing this ‘classic’ musical as I thought it sounded interesting and the poster campaigns seemed really striking with it’s traditionally stagey feel.
The production first began on Broadway in 1927, with a West End run opening a year later and it quickly became somewhat revolutionary at the time, as it took you from the 19th century into the turn of the 20th Century in America and it tells a simple but powerful story of freedom, loyalty and love, with it skimming over some important subjects in history like slavery, which at the time of it’s initial release would have been very brave.
It features timeless songs like Ol’ Man River, Make Believe and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man from Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The score itself covered a wide range of styles, some of which seemed to have minor similarities to some of the West End’s favourite shows like Les Miserables and Phantom Of The Opera, as well as traditional soul and jazz sounds. Making it have a rather wide appeal.
The theatre itself was modern, which was contrasting of the period the show was set in, but it made it feel very atmospheric. Especially with the fact it was rather audience involving, making you feel part of the ‘Show Boat’.
The cast was of course incredible. It was exciting seeing a popular stage favourite, Gina Beck (Wicked, Les Mis and Phantom) in one of the lead roles as Magnolia. However, I also particularly enjoyed Rebecca Trehearn as the quirky Julie, and Sandra Marvin as the brilliantly funny Queenie. Though they were all wonderful.
The sets and costumes were brilliant too, in fact I was envious or in awe of some of the costumes! Plus I thought the boat itself was beautiful and made you feel you wanted to be part of it.
The biggest disappointment though was the audience figures. For a West End theatre I was slightly shocked by how many empty seats there were. Therefore, it’s easy to see why they’ve opted for a four-month premature closure, as tourists clearly aren’t going for it, most likely due to the fact it’s an older musical that’s up against the new and classic favourites (like Lion King, Les Mis or Kinky Boots). Therefore, it seems to be a show that appeals more to an older audience or to genuine theatre lovers.
However, it’s a severe shame because the show and all involved deserve more support as it’s great fun, full of energy and heart and it skims over some important subjects in history.
I may have to admit that while I found the story to be a little slow starting, once I was into it I was completed invested. It was very much the classic theatrical entertainment filled with singing, dancing, drama, emotion, comedy and romance that anybody could enjoy. Worth a watch for sure! ★★★