"Showboat" (Lyric Opera): Paddleboat among the Yachts

"Showboat" (Lyric Opera):  Paddleboat among the Yachts

#34.  I love a chai tea latte!  Most places make it way too sweet.  Sometimes, it comes overwhelmingly spicy. The milk to tea ratio can also throw me into a quandary.  I know what I like and I know where to get it.  When I order a chai tea latte at Julius Meinl, I am confident it will taste perfect.   And I count on that.

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents SHOWBOAT.  The iconic musical tells the story of showbiz life on the Mississippi.   The Hawks family paddle their floating theatre from town to town.  Their reputation draws crowds from the riverside communities.  Julie is the star.  Magnolia is the star-in-waiting.  And Queenie is  the wise ship cook.  When the boat drops anchor in a new place, the drama starts.   But this time, it’s onstage AND offstage.  It’s all black and white.  One gal loses her job.  Another loses her heart.  SHOWBOAT cruises into familiar water with buoyant but a lackluster presence.

It’s the Lyric!  I look to be awed.  This show left me ah-ed.  The set is simplistic.  And although I would have admired it as a touring company’s scenery mounted at the Bank of America Theatre, this is the Lyric.  I want grandeur.  Just this season, I’ve been blown away by locomotives and boats on the Lyric stage.  The set-costume extravaganza for AIDA is one of my favorite theatre spectacles ever.  I expect to see a *showboat* but instead it’s a scaffold-like makeshift.  Ah, shucks!

In the beginning, the overture sounds promising.  Kern’s melodies resonate powerfully under the baton of John DeMain and the orchestra.  But when the curtain rises, the heavy dialogue based show strains to be heard.  At the Lyric, performers don’t use microphones.  For opera-trained voices, this practice is impressive.  For musical-style singing, this choice proves difficult for some.  Still,  “Ol’ Man River,” “Make Believe,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and other favorites are enjoyable.  Morris Robinson (Joe) and Angela Renee Simpson (Queenie) endure as the strong mainstay of the show.  Robinson and Simpson deliver some inspirational harmonies.  And Chicago’s Cindy Gold (Parthy Ann) provides multiple moments of hilarity.  As the matriarch of the ship, Gold’s part is small but memorable.

SHOWBOAT sailing into the Lyric was a risky maneuver.  It’s a musical not an opera.  This production has some quaint and charming elements.  With one more opera left to go in the 2011/2012 season, the Lyric has had a mostly blockbuster season.  SHOWBOAT is the paddleboat in their yacht harbor.

Making his annual Lyric appearance, James describes it with ‘wanted more show.’

Production photograph courtesy of Robert Kusel.

Running Time:  Two hours and fifty minutes includes an intermission

At Civic Opera House in the Ardis Krainik Theatre, 20 N. Wacker

Based on the novel by Edna Ferber

Music by Jerome Kern

Books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Directed by Francesca Zambello

Conducted by John DeMain

February 17th, 18th, 22nd, 25th, 28th at 7:30

March 9th, 14th, 17th at 7:30

March 1st, 2nd, 7th at 2pm

Buy Tickets at www.lyricopera.org/


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