Show Boat arrived at the New London Theatre to a 5-star majority from pro critics. Typically, Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) saluted Kern and Hammerstein’s “1927 masterpiece” which pioneered “a unified combination of plotting, lyrics and score”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) hailed “operatic melodies of romantic yearning, gorgeous folk ballads and exhilarating ensemble numbers” while Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) said: “Even today the sheer breadth of its concerns and the ambition and range of its score… take the breath away.”
Shenton hailed Sheffield Crucible’s “mighty new production” as “compressed and fleet of foot,” maintaining “the epic sweep of the show” yet “bringing its tender, poignant love stories into heartbreaking focus”. Crompton enjoyed an “impassioned, supple staging” that “seems to me to get everything right”. Shenton praised, as among innumerable other virtues, “Vibrant choreography” which “makes the entire stage pulse with movement” and Crompton observed “The overall grip never slackens”.
Of the boat itself, Cavendish described “opulent detail… with bunting, lighting and, upon its applauded arrival, shimmering chorus-girls” and Shenton saw it “spectacularly advancing towards the audience”. Crompton admired a setting which also “carries the action effortlessly to Chicago with the help of a flickering film and a balloon seller” and forward via “a hugely effective slide show”.
Crompton declared all actors “uniformly superb” and Shenton found the show “musically… entirely honoured” by “stunning vocal performances”. Cavendish agreed: “Song after song has a depth of feeling that surprises, delights and moves.” Emmanuel Kojo’s Ol’ Man River was generally highlighted as “exquisitely sung,” and “resonant” with, said Crompton, “just the right bite of disgust”. Shenton found Sandra Marvin’s Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’ “haunting” and Crompton reported “shivers down the spine”.
Shenton found Rebecca Trehearn “thrilling” and Crompton said she “breaks your heart” performing “the glorious Bill”. Cavendish couldn’t imagine “a more heart-rending interpretation”. Crompton enjoyed watching Gina Beck, “with her soaring lyric soprano” grow “beautifully from idealistic girl to dignified woman” while Shenton declared her voice “luscious” and “perfectly matched by the liquid warmth of Chris Peluso’s”.
Shenton hailed an “exhilarating update of a true classic” in a “magnificent staging” that “makes it feel both revolutionary and timeless”. Crompton also found it “as relevant and powerful as ever” declaring it: “Glorious”. Cavendish described a “superb revival” that “radiates not only immense talent across the board but also supreme confidence in its material” concluding: “All aboard! You won’t regret it”.