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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
SHOW BOAT
at Carnegie Hall

LIFE ON THE WICKED STAGE
By MATT WINDMAN

  Cast and Ensemble/PH: Chris Lee

Show Boat, the 1927 Kern-Hammerstein musical that is said to have permanently changed the course of American musical theater toward narrative storytelling, received a one-night concert production at Carnegie Hall, conducted by Paul Gemignani and directed by Francesca Zambello (The Little Mermaid).

Many different versions of Show Boat exist. The 1927 original version is never used anymore. The Rodgers & Hammerstein organization licenses the 1946 revival version, which was approved of by both Kern and Hammerstein, and the 1990s Hal Prince revival. The Carnegie Hall concert, while based primarily on the 1946 edition, was a new adaptation by Doug Wright, designed to abridge the story and facilitate the concert setting.

Sure, there were turn-of-the-century costumes and a few dance movements downstage. But unlike the City Center Encores! concerts, which are nearly fully staged, this was a very restrained concert. The actors all stayed downstage and delivered their lines into a line of microphones.

The story, which is superficial and melodramatic to begin with, was further watered down by the condensing. The book-scenes that remained felt forced and boring. It actually made me appreciate Town Hall's Broadway by the Year series, where only songs are performed, and there are no book scenes. The most compelling dramatic moment came from Marilyn Horne - her cameo at the very end as an audience member who remembers seeing Magnolia perform on her debut night.

The casting represented a mixture of opera (Nathan Gunn, Alvy Powell, Celena Shafer) and musical theater (Carolee Carmello, Gregg Edelman, Gavin Lee, Megan Sikora, Jonathan Hadary).

Nathan Gunn, who made a splash in the Philharmonic's Camelot concert, was decent as Gaylord, but far less intriguing. After all, the character's ballads - You Are Love and Make Believe- though pretty, have the syrupy operetta quality that we've since shunned. He was far sexier and interesting as Lancelot, and one hopes we'll see him do more musical theater in the future.

Carolee Carmello, who has been in Mamma Mia! on and off for the past four years, reminded us what a truly captivating and meticulous diva she is. With a southern accent, she both looked and sounded like Lucille Frank, who she played in Parade in 1999. After singing Bill in Act Two, she slowly exited the stage like a woman in pain and on the verge of death. It was creepy, yet effective.

As is often the case with any event using microphones at Carnegie Hall, there were serious amplification issues, but nothing to prevent anyone from having a good time. Too bad this wasn't recorded.

 


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