Great Performances: Season 18, Episode 4

Show Boat (27 Oct. 1989)

TV Episode  |   |  Biography, Drama, Music
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A stage production of the classic musical, videotaped in front of a live audience at the Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey.



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Episode credited cast:
Richard White ...
Shelly Burch ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Marsha Bagwell ...
P.L. Brown ...
Lauren Gaffney ...
Larry Grey ...
Robert Jensen ...
Michael McCarty ...
Lenora Nemetz ...
Monte Ralstin ...
Lee Roy Reams ...
Lawrence Vincent ...


A stage production of the classic musical, videotaped in front of a live audience at the Paper Mill Playhouse, New Jersey.

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Release Date:

27 October 1989 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?


The original production of Showboat opened in the Ziegfeld Theater on December 27, 1927 and ran for 572 performances. The Great Performances show was originally produced for the Papermill Playhouse of Milburn New Jersey. See more »


Gaylord Ravenal: [referring to Parthy] Every time she calls, you jump. Why?
Cap'n Andy Hawks: Why?
Cap'n Andy Hawks: That woman's got a mean disposition!
See more »


Version of Show Boat (1929) See more »


Ol' Man River
(first reprise)
Sung by P.L. Brown
See more »

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User Reviews

Superb! Much better than the available movies.
23 September 1999 | by (Charlottesville VA, USA) – See all my reviews

Most of the actors were unfamiliar to me, but they were outstanding. P.J. Brown as Joe has a rich, bass voice, quite able to withstand the inevitable comparisons with Paul Robeson's performance in the 1936 movie. Playing Queenie, Joe's wife, Ellia English outdoes her famous 1936 counterpart (Hattie McDaniel) as both actress and singer.

Rebecca Baxter as Magnolia Hawks has a lovely soprano and a youthful appearance persuasively close to Magnolia's 19 years. She is also a marvelous dancer, with great legs, which she shows to advantage, playing Magnolia's daughter in 1920s costume. Shelly Burch as Julie La Verne looks and sounds right for the character when she speaks, but I thought her singing voice too high and coloratura-like for the role.

One advantage of this production is that it has enough time (over 2.5 hours) to emphasize an aspect of the operetta that abridged versions scant. The action occurs at four different times: 1887 on the southern Mississippi River, 1892 in Chicago at the World's Fair, 1900 in Chicago at the Trocade ro night club, and 1927 back on the Mississippi. This production, aided by foundation money, gorged itself in the fancy-dress styles of these four different eras.

Richard White as Gaylord Ravenal looks just fine as a charming gentleman and obsessive gambler. He has a rich baritone, which works well most of the time. Unfortunately, the part is written for very high baritone or tenor. The only place that this really creates a problem is in the duet, "You Are Love" (the romantic climax of the play), which requires Ravenal to spend some time at F and G above middle C. At those times both he and I were uncomfortable.

Lee Roy Reams and Lenore Nemetz, the show's principal dancers, were given plenty of time for their numbers, which they performed with great skill and elan. Eddie Bracken, whom I had seen before, but not since the 1940s, was a splendid Cap'n Andy. He is listed at the top of the credits and deserves that spot. He can take command of the stage when appropriate, as when he pantomimes a fight between hero and villain, or orchestrates Magnolia's triumph at the Trocadero. Marsha Bagwell is funny and deft as the wife who commands Cap'n Andy on every occasion but the important ones.

What a shame that, so far as I know, this tape has never been available for purchase! My comments are based on a PBS broadcast I recorded in 1989.

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