Jeri TidwellRobert John Biedermann gives a sharp performance as Captain Andy Hawks, the showboat’s owner, demonstrating with his shrewd one-liners just how funny the script can be.
“Show Boat” Sets Sail At Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Billed as an American classic, “Show Boat” made its debut at Toby’s Dinner Theatre on January 12, and that wasn’t just the debut of this production – it was the first time in Toby’s nearly four-decade history that this iconic piece of American culture has been produced by the company. And as theatergoers can expect, this is a version that lives up to the musical’s reputation.
“Show Boat,” considered by many theater historians to be a turning point in the evolution of the modern musical, follows life aboard a Mississippi showboat, where performers yearn for a chance at leading roles and young dreamers look to fall in love. Although the storyline – which touches on such themes as racial segregation and gender roles – proves engaging and as relevant today as it was in 1927, the songs by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II require an acquired ear and seem to interrupt the drama rather than augment it.
But there can never be any doubt that Toby’s Dinner Theatre knows what to do with any material. Co-directed by company founder Toby Orenstein and associate producer Mark Minnick, this production captures the old-fashioned stage sensibilities of the musical’s day while still emphasizing the appeal to a modern audience. Robert John Biedermann gives a sharp performance as Captain Andy Hawks, the showboat’s owner, demonstrating with his shrewd one-liners just how funny the script can be. Additionally, the dance numbers choreographed by Minnick demonstrate that vaudeville is still entertaining even if it’s several decades out of fashion.
The three-hour-plus runtime has been abridged to a much more comfortable two hours, and many of the heavier themes, particularly with regard to race issues, have been removed, making for a much lighter entertainment experience.
Toby’s “Show Boat” achieves a balance between presenting an icon of theater history and satisfying the preferences of a modern audience, and theatergoers have to show respect where it’s due – without “Show Boat,” there wouldn’t be musical theater as we know it today. What’s more, it’s a celebration of the performing arts and the way they bring people together. And what better place to be a part of that story than at Toby’s, where theater has been made accessible for generation after generation?
For ticket information for “Show Boat,” which plays through March 19, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.