During the pre-Broadway try-outs, the original production ran for more than four hours, but was reduced to just over three by the time it opened in New York. Songs were cut, though Be Happy, Too was included on the 1988 studio cast album and the Hal Prince revival and Let’s Start the New Year was included in the 1989 Paper Mill Playhouse production.
There are only three songs that have been included in every stage and film production of Show Boat: Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man and Bill. Other songs were discarded only to be revived in later productions. The Harold Fielding production in London in the 1970s falsely claimed to have used the entire original score.
Not all songs in Show Boat were originals. Four other songs were added that were reworked for the show or were added for historical atmosphere. For revival productions, Kern and Hammerstein wrote two new songs and three more songs were added to the 1936 film version.
Show Boat has been adapted for film three times, and for television just once.
In 1929 Universal Studios released a film version of the novel by Edna Ferber. This was a silent movie, but as soon as it was completed some of the music from the show was filmed and added to a part-talkie version of the same film.
Universal Studios released another movie version in 1936, directed by James Whale. This was a film version of the show with the screenplay written by Oscar Hammerstein II. The film also featured actors from the original Broadway cast including Helen Morgan (Julie), Charles Winninger (Cap’n Andy) and Paul Robeson.
A colour movie, and the second Hollywood adaptation, was launched by MGM in 1951. Directed by George Sidney, the film includes many of the shows songs, though the story was both glamourised and simplified to create a happy ending. Starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ava Gardner, and Joe E. Brown much of what is provocative about the racial sub-plot was removed.
In 1989 a live performance by the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey was videotaped for television. It contained fewer cuts and more of the songs than any of the film versions.
Produced by Oscar Hammerstein II and directed by Florenz Ziegfeld, the first production of Show Boat was previewed in a one-month pre-Broadway tour taking in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Philadelphia before opening at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway on 27 December 1927. The show was a critical and popular success, running for a total of 572 performances. The production then toured extensively.
The original cast included Charles Winninger as Cap’n Andy Hawks, Edna May Oliver as Parthy Ann Hawks, Norma Terris as Magnolia Hawks and her daughter Kim (as an adult), Howard Marsh as Gaylord Ravenal, Helen Morgan as Julie LaVerne, Jules Bledsoe as Joe, Eva Puck as Ellie May Chipley, Sammy White as Frank Schultz and Tess Gardella as Queenie. Whilst the character of Joe was specifically written for Paul Robeson, he was unavailable for the original production, but he played Joe four productions including the London première in 1928, the 1932 Broadway revival, the 1936 movie version and the 1940 Los Angeles stage revival.
1932: Show Boat was revived by Ziegfeld at the Casino Theatre with most of the original cast, but with Dennis King as Ravenal and Paul Robeson as Joe, who was described by a New York Times critic as having ‘a touch of genius’.
1946: At the Ziegfeld Theatre, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II produced a major new Broadway revival, including the new song by Kern called No One But Me. Kern did not live to see the launch of this successful production that ran for 418 performances and then toured extensively.
1948 and 1954: New York City Centre produced two revivals of Show Boat.
1966: Also at the New York City Centre, a new show was produced by Richard Rodgers with revised orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett.
1983: Whilst the Uris Theatre production in New York starred Donald O’Connor as Cap’n Andy, Mickey Rooney was starring as Cap’n Andy in a production of Show Boat at the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C.
1989: The Paper Mill Playhouse of Millburn, New Jersey, wanted to create a show as close to the original script as possible. Directed by Robert Johanson, the show starred Eddie Bracken as Cap’n Andy. The production was filmed on videotape and broadcast on television channel PBS (USA).
1994: Broadway’s longest-running Show Boat to date was produced and directed by Harold Prince. It premiered in Toronto in 1993 before opening at the George Gershwin Theatre in New York in October 1994. This production also went on tour with songs dropped and added in various productions, and racial elements were highlighted.
1928: The original London West End production of Show Boat opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1928. The cast included Paul Robeson as Joe, Edith Day as Magnolia, Cedric Hardwicke as Capt. Andy and Alberta Hunter as Queenie.
Notable revivals include:
1971: This West End production at the Adelphi Theatre ran for an extraordinarily long run of 909 performances.
1989: The joint Opera North/Royal Shakespeare Company production transferred to the London Palladium in 1990.
1998: The Hal Prince production ran at the Prince Edward Theatre was nominated for the Olivier Award.
2006: This production directed by Francesca Zambello was the first fully staged musical production ever held at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
2016: Transferring from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre to London’s New London Theatre, this production of Show Boat was directed by Daniel Evans.
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