'SHOW BOAT' PROVES FINE MUSICAL SHOW
Distinguished Audience Finds New Production One of Ziegfeld's
Play is Staged Lavishly.
Story Adheres Closely to the Edna Ferber Novel of Floating
New York Times, December 28, 1927 page 26
The worlds of Broadway and Park Avenue and their respective wives put on
their best bibs and tuckers last night and converged at Mr. Ziegfeld's handsome
new playhouse on Sixth Avenue. There they milled about elegantly in the lobby,
were pictured by flashlight photographers and finally got to their seats and to
the business in hand. That was the inspection of the newest offering from the
worships of the maestro, the much-heralded musical adaptation of Edna Ferber's
novel, "Show Boat."
From such remote centres of theatrical omniscience as Pittsburgh, Washington
and Philadelphia had come the advance word that it was better than good – some
reports even extravagantly had it that here was Mr. Ziegfeld's superlative
achievement. It would be difficult to quarrel with such tidings, for last
night's performance came perilously near to realizing the most fulsome of them.
All right, there you have it: "Show Boat" is, with a few reservations in
favor of some of the earlier "Follies" and possibly "Sally," just about the best
musical piece ever to arrive under Mr. Ziegfeld's silken gonfalon. It has,
barring perhaps a slight lack of one kind of comedy, and an over-abundance of
another, and a little slowness in getting under way – this last due to the fact
that it is crammed with plot which simply must be explained – about every
ingredient that the perfect song-and-dance concoction should have.
In its adherence to its story it is positively slavish. The adaptation of the
novel has been intelligently made, and such liberties as the demands of musical
comedy necessitate do not twist the tale nor distort its values. For this, and
for the far better than the average lyrics with which it is endowed, credit
Oscar Hammerstein 2d, who is rapidly monopolizing the function of author for the
town's musical entertainments.
Then, too, "Show Boat" has an exceptionally tuneful score – the most lilting
and satisfactory that the wily Jerome Kern has contrived in several seasons.
Potential son hits were as common last night as top hats. Such musical
recordings of amorous reaction as "You Are in [sic] Love," "I Can't Help Lovin'
That Man," "Why Do I Love You?" are sufficient for any show – to say nothing of
"Old Man River," which Jules Bledsoe and a negro chorus make remarkably
If these three contributions – book, lyrics and score – call for a string of
laudatory adjectives, the production compels that they be repeated again – and
with a short tiger. The colorful scenes on and around the show-boat, playing its
course along the Mississippi, that comprise the first act lend themselves well
to a variety of effects and have been achieved with Mr. Ziegfeld's unimpeachable
skill and taste.
In the second act the nine interludes carry the spectator from the gaudy
Midway Plaisance of the World's Fair to the somber quiet of St. Agatha's Convent
and then back to the new and modernized floating theatre, 1927 variety. The
settings are all atmospherically perfect; the costumes are in the style of each
of the periods and there is a finish and polish about the completed entity that
caused even a first performance to move with unusual smoothness.
Te recount in any detail the plot of a musical comedy usually is a silly and
banal business; to tell Miss Ferber's large and clamorous public what happens to
Magnolia and Gaylord Ravenal is unnecessary. But to tell them of the manner in
which these characters and the many others of the best seller have been brought
to life is something else again.
As Magnolia, Norma Terris appeared to be a revelation, even to the first
nighters who had watched her work in pervious dance-and-tune saturnalias. Her
realization of Captain Andy's daughter seemed complete, even when she got around
to imitating Ted Lewis and Ethel Barrymore in the final, or 11:45P.M., scene.
Howard Marsh, one of the more facial tenors, made a handsome and satisfactory
Ravenal. Helen Morgan, who is among the town's most adept song saleswomen, was
Julie, and purveyed two numbers in her distinctive style. As the dour and
formidable New England mother, Party Ann Hawks, Edna May Oliver played with
requisite austerity, although she did forget herself long enough to engage in a
But the outstanding hit of the evening seemed to be reserved for Charles
Winninger, who cut capers to his heart's content as Captain Andy.
He is in top form, and when Mr. Winninger is in top form he is an extremely
waggish fellow. And in a moment during the "Show Boat's" performance when
through the defection of an affrightened villain he is compelled to seize the
stage and act out the remainder of the play himself, he is extraordinarily
persuasive and convincing. Then there are the reliable Puck and White,
presenting the low comedy specialties, and others too numerous to mention.
"Show Boat," as it should not be too difficult for the reader to ascertain by
now, is an excellent musical comedy; one that comes perilously close to being
the best the town has seen in several seasons. It must have afforded its
producer, who has poured dollars into it by the thousands, a certain ironic
satisfaction to hear the play's Chicago cabaret manager say with an air of
finality, "No, I can't afford to take chances with amateurs with a $2,000
production on my hands." Mr. Ziegfeld can't afford to, either.
© 1927 The New York Times