Lyric’s Show Boat Review: All Aboard the Cotton Blossom!

The Lyric Opera of Chicago, typically undaunted by musical challenges, docked its spectacular new production of Show Boat with the confidence befitting its enormous resources and incredible depth of talent.  Even so, it created a unique work melding the best of theater and opera performance: a richly textured evening on the Cotton Blossom. Literally. Every scene change is what you would expect on a Mississippi Show Boat. We are the delighted captive audience on the Show Boat.


The singing, the exuberant dancing, the acting—sometimes hilariously comic and sometimes heart-breaking—carry the production into our hearts and minds. Premiered on Broadway in 1927, Show Boat is a remarkable achievement for the de facto pioneer of American musicals. Its uniquely American subject matter, conflict, style, inspiration, look and feel would be extraordinary in a more mature genre.  But for a first in its class, Show Boat is impossibly mature.


When Show Boat, the seminal American masterpiece with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (based on the Edna Ferber novel) dropped its operatic anchor in Lyric, a dazzling new production was launched. Starring Ashley Brown, Nathan Gunn, Alyson Cambridge, Morris Robinson, Angela Renée Simpson, Ross Lehman, Cindy Gold, Ericka Mac, and Bernie Yvon, conducted by John DeMain and directed by Francesca Zambello; set designer Peter J. Davison, costume designer Paul Tazewell, lighting designer Mark McCullough, sound designer Mark Grey, and choreographer Michele Lynch (debut).


As Zambello explains, “Show Boat is a work that set a benchmark for everything to come. We could not have had Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Sondheim without this work. Nor could we have found a bridge from opera to our own American art form. I have long believed that musical theater is ‘our’ version of opera. We now need to find a way to allow opera and musical theater to live harmoniously in our American theater and opera-house landscape.”


Appropriately, its production anticipates the Renée Fleming Initiative, Lyric’s annual commitment to American Music Theater, starting with a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in the spring of 2013.


Intermission Interview:

I had the pleasure of sharing Show Boat with a dear friend, Charles Troy, Musical Theater Historian and Creator of Broadway Musicals and their Creators multimedia presentations. He chimes in:


“The Lyric Opera production of Show Boat is beautiful to look at and wonderfully sung. As a student of musical theatre history, I particularly enjoyed the restoration of a number of obscure songs that are usually cut in productions of Show Boat. (Kern and Hammerstein wrote far more songs than could be programmed into an evening’s entertainment.) All that being said, I do have some reservations about this production. The direction seemed lacking a certain dynamism. The chorus sometimes seemed stationary, and thus the dancing interludes felt grafted on rather than arising organically from the action. But the opportunity to see and hear this first great American musical given such respectful treatment in such a handsome production trumps any particular objections I might have.” Visit Charles website to learn about him and his excellent work:


Generous sponsors for this new production are The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust, The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance, the Mazza Foundation, Jim and Vicki Mills/Jon and Lois Mills, Roberta L. and Robert J. Washlow, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

 Photos:  Dan Rest/Lyric Opera ofChicago and Robert Kusel/Lyric Opera ofChicago. 


Lyric Opera Premiere / New Production SHOW BOAT

to dock at Lyric Opera of Chicago Feb. 12 - Mar. 17

(Lyrics in English with projected English texts)


12 performances beginning at 7:30 p.m., except for matinees at 2:00 p.m.

Feb. 12 (mat), 13, 17, 18, 22, 25, 28, Mar. 1 (mat), 2 (mat), 7 (mat), 9, 14, 17



General Phone: 312.332.2244

Ticket Information: 312.332.2244 ext. 5600

Donor Information: 312.332.2244 ext. 3500

Mailing Address: 20 N. Wacker Drive,Chicago,IL60606

Theatre Entrance:  Northwest corner of Madison Street andWacker Drive.




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