Show Boat, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. If ever a Broadway musical communicated hope, love, pain, and wisdom, it's this inexhaustible treasure. In 1927 composer Jerome Kern and lyricist-book writer Oscar Hammerstein II joined forces to chronicle the lives of four very different couples from the Gilded Age to the Roaring 20s, from the floating melodramas of the Cotton Blossom to early-20th-century Chicago. Brilliantly contrasting the boat's theatrical world with the rigors of real life, this sprawling, generous, heartfelt classic of Americana delivers a final benediction as broad as the Mississippi.
Necessarily condensed, Gary Griffin's worthy revival rightly puts the characters first: story, spectacle, and songs flow effortlessly from their unflinching actuality. As the charming rogue Gaylord, Sean McDermott and his crystal tenor are the perfect match for Jamie Dawn Gangi and her silver soprano in the role of the trusting Magnolia. It's impossible to imagine a more imperious Queenie than Felicia P. Fields, a more powerful post-Robeson Joe than Derrick Smith, or a more irascible pair than Dale Benson's quavering Captain Andy and Mary Ann Thebus's tough-loving Parthy Hawkes. Michael Gerhart and Michele Graff are vaudeville perfect as happy mediocrities Frank and Ellie.
Last and best is Susan Moniz as all-sacrificing Julie. The heartbreaking restraint she brings to "Bill" suggests the depth of her feeling--why she can't help lovin' dat man.