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Jerome Kern’s ‘Show Boat’ opens summer season at SF Opera, 6/1

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Jerome Kern’s classic musical from 1927, SHOW BOAT arrives at the War Memorial Opera House for ten performances beginning June 1 and continuing through July 2. The opulent production features soprano Heidi Stober as “Magnolia Hawks” and tenor Michael Todd Simpson as “Gaylord Ravenal”. Superstar soprano Patricia Racette takes on the role of “Julie La Verne” and the unforgettable ballads that go with it – Bill and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man. As “Joe”, Morris Robinson will apply his rich bass vocals to the composer’s masterpiece, Ol’ Man River.

At the recent press conference, director Francesca Zambello said of the musical, “I think that this piece speaks to opera audiences and music theatre audiences and people who love great melodies, great music, and great stories. We don’t have that many pieces that really speak about our own history in such a meaningful and powerful way. It’s important for people to realize that 1927 New York was a place where Europeans and Vaudeville and the evolution of music theatre was all happening. And this is really the first piece that is our own musical genre.”

Angela Renée Simpson plays “Queenie”, Joe’s wife, who wonders not only how Julie knows the song, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, but can deliver it in such a knowing manner. Kirsten Wyatt and John Bolton play “Ellie” and “Frank”, the production’s song and dance team who capture Kern’s use of traditional Vaudeville. Tony Award winning Bill Irwin appears in the all-out character role, “Cap’n Andy Hawks”. As his bossy wife, “Parthy”, is Tony Award winning Harriet Harris.

It was not unusual for producer Florenz Ziegfeld to include material by a number of composers in any of his shows. Two of Show Boat’s most well-known numbers, After the Ball and Goodbye, My Lady Love are not by Jerome Kern and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, but originate from the Tin Pan Alley days. After the Ball, penned by Charles K. Harris, was a fabulous hit in 1892 – the sheet music sales passing the five million mark before the end of the century. The tune is currently available on-line as a transposable digital download. Joseph E. Howard and his wife were already famous before they wrote Goodbye, My Lady Love in 1904. By the end of 1899, the Howards had become a household name with their first composition, Hello! Ma Baby. The song gained them immortality when it was included in the 1956 Looney Tunes classic, One Froggy Evening.

“Those songs were there from the beginning,” said conductor John DeMain. “In the nightclub scene, you could present a show – they could present those numbers. And they set them apart, as numbers that were integral to telling the story.”

Edna Ferber’s original novel is appreciated as one of the great examples of American story-telling, especially because its time frame extends between the period of Reconstruction and the early 1920s. Jerome Kern’s enduring score reflects the musical finesse of popular European operettas, but the rhythms and the sound of its language engage the sentiments and sensitivities of a fast-evolving American populace.

Click here to purchase tickets on-line: SHOW BOAT

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