Show Boat

Taken with Edna Ferber's 1926 novel, tracing the lives of three generations of entertainers over 40 years of evolving musical fashions, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II realized it could be the basis of a new kind of musical play—not a Viennese operetta, not a vaudeville-style gags-&-showgirls revue. How did they do it? Consider the stunning Act 1 hat trick, the songs "Make Believe," Old Man River," and "Can't Help Lovin' 'Dat Man"—any one of which on its own could have anchored and ensured the popularity of a show. Show Boat's backdrop is the sweep of American pop culture itself during a particularly eventful period of change, from 1880s mellerdrammers and "coon songs" to the Broadway and Hollywood of the '20s, against which director Jerry Dixon skillfully foregrounds the characters' stories. It's a show that can take a grand-opera treatment, with huge sets and a cast of dozens, but Village Theatre makes it work captivatingly in a smaller house—partly because Robert A. Dahlstrom's lovely sets make the most of the space, partly through Stanley Wesley Perryman's clever choreography, but primarily because the casting is just about perfect. GAVIN BORCHERT

Tuesdays-Sundays. Starts: May 13. Continues through July 3, 2009

 
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