ALHAMBRA THEATRE & DINING REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville’s Alhambra Theatre & Dining opened the second show of its 50th year celebration with “Show Boat.” This classic musical will be on stage through April 2, 2017 at 12000 Beach Boulevard. Call 641-1212 or visit alhambrajax for reservations.
“Show Boat” is a 1927 musical about the life and loves of the members of a Mississippi riverboat theatre troupe. The story, based on an Edna Ferber novel, is one filled with romance and interwoven with unforgettable music written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. And it was groundbreaking. While previous American musicals followed a simple storyline and were filled with frivolity, “Show Boat” at times depicted characters adversely affected by the racial segregation of the era. These are some of the reasons it has remained so popular over the years.
The show opens in front of a docked boat with an appearance by Captain Andy, splendidly portrayed by Bill Galarno, whose last appearance on the Alhambra’s stage was as Matt in the 1968 production of “The Fantasticks.” The audience then gets to meet his wife Parthy (Patti Eyler) and many other colorful characters who live and work on the river.
The parade of wonderful songs begins with “Cotton Blossom,” by stevedores, gals, and theatre troupe members, and continues as the gambler Ravenal (Billy Clark Taylor) and the captain’s daughter Magnolia (Annabelle Fox) use their magnificent voices in “Only Make Believe.”
One of the best known songs, “Ol’ Man River,” follows and is sung by Joe (Peter M. Jackson), who is joined by Marcus Davis and Eric Witherspoon who portray stevedores. Co-directors Tod Booth and Lisa Valdini have Mr. Jackson sing reprises later in the show; his well-trained deep bass voice fully conveyed the emotion embodied in the poignant lyrics, and brought deserved applause from the audience.
Julie (Kelsey Denae), the show’s star, displays her fabulous voice in several songs including “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Unfortunately, her role as a star changes abruptly when Sheriff Ike Vallon (Kenneth Uibel) comes aboard to close down the evening’s performance. Local laws prohibit interracial marriage, and he has learned that Julie is a mixed-race woman passing as white who is married to Steven Baker (Erik DeCicco), a white man. Both are forced to leave the troupe, and Magnolia takes Julie’s place as the leading lady.
Two Alhambra veterans team up as the delightful musical comedy duo of Ellie and Frank. Katie Nettle was last seen in “Smokey Joe’s Café,” while Timothy Ellis portrayed Sitting Bull in “Annie Get Your Gun.” He is also the dance captain for the current production.
Cherry Hamlin (whom you may remember as Celie in the Alhambra’s hit production of “The Color Purple”) appears as Joe’s wife Queenie. Toward the end of the second act, the now elderly couple sings “I Still Suits Me,” which was the funniest song in show, and a favorite of the Gala Night audience.
Rounding out the cast were Pierre Tannous as a nightclub owner, Tatum Mathews, a young local actress in a small role as the daughter Ravenal and Magnolia (yes, they married, but we will let you discover the details when you see the show). A bevy of talented and attractive women appeared in most of the musical selections as dancers and singers and included Olivia Chernyshev, Samantha Gardner, Linzy Lauren, Robin Richardson, and Angela Roberts. Megan Victoria Stillson did some fast costume changes in Act Two, appearing as Mrs. O’Brien, an Irish Chicago landlady, a nun at a Catholic school, and a fan of the Cotton Blossom shows in the final scene.
The setting was the colorful exterior of the boat for the most part, with some furniture brought on for the Chicago scenes. The show covers a span of forty years, and to keep the audience informed of events during the progression, subtitles are unobtrusively displayed at the top of the set. The costumes by the Costume Crew were authentic for the era.
Additional production staff included: Cathy Murphy Giddens (Musical Director), Shain Stroff (Stage Manager), David Dionne and Ian Black (Set Designers), Misty Desmit (Lighting Design), and Linnay Bennett (Sound Design).
Chef DeJuan Roy presented food choices which included blackened salmon and shrimp, stuffed quail, coulotte steak, and a vegetarian entrée with sautéed kale. Desserts included Mississippi mud pie, and lemon cake.
The show runs two hours and has some of the greatest songs in the history of musical theatre, and the Alhambra has filled the stage with a strong theatrical and musical team – so don’t miss the boat on this one.