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'Show Boat,' Acclaimed Hammerstein Musical, Continues Its West End Revival

By Philip Trapp on Apr 26, 2016 04:33 PM EDT

Show Boat, the enduring musical from Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, extends its West End revival. Helmed by Welsh director Daniel Evans, the latest version of the renowned play opens this week in London.

Based on Edna Ferber's bestselling novel, the racially charged drama has been in near-continuous production since its 1927 debut. Librettist Hammerstein and composer Kern constructed one of the first truly substantive pieces of musical storytelling on Broadway, provoking several film and radio versions thereafter.

Daniel Evans' contemporary revival of Show Boat began last year at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, drawing rave reviews. The popular showing is now moving to New London Theatre. Speaking to Evening Standard in the midst of the production's transfer, the director offered his thoughts on the musical's lasting reputation:

"It's the mother of all musicals. This was the first time two writers, a composer and a dramatist, went 'We're going to write this story in a unified way,' so that songs forward the plot and it has a unified sound world." [...] "It's also the first time that a piece of popular entertainment explored serious issues."

Show Boat is noted for being the first racially integrated musical upon its 1927 premiere, a feat that mirrors its two act's critique on early 20th century race relations. Kern and Hammerstein's score has been called "a tremendous expression of the ethics of tolerance and compassion," while critics have remained polarized over the show's candid ethnic commentary.

James Hammerstein, the son of lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, also expressed appreciation for the production's weighty subject matter:

"It came from nowhere in an era when silly musicals with silly books with silly Mitteleuropean comedians were the rule."

Regardless of the show's racial connotations, the musical stands as one of the most revived theatrical works on both Broadway and the West End.

Its original London showing was staged in 1928 at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, followed by a long-running Adelphi Theatre production in 1971 and prolific director Hal Prince's adaptation in 1998. A 2006 version by Francesca Zambello was the first fully-staged musical presented at London's Royal Albert Hall.

Show Boat will run at New London Theatre until January 7, 2017.

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TagsShow Boat, Daniel Evans, Oscar Hammerstein