“Show Boat is a piece that benefits greatly from the resources and forces of a major opera company,” states General Director Anthony Freud of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s upcoming production. “Audiences will be astonished at its impact when performed by Lyric’s wonderful orchestra and chorus, and with the fantastic cast made up of singers from the worlds of opera and of musical theater. It’s important that great opera companies such as Lyric produce a breadth of repertory that encompasses not only the great international masterpieces but also great works of our own country.
“One of the greatest works of music theater that the U. S. has produced is Jerome Kern’s Show Boat. It reinvented the language of musical theater, making it serious, profound, emotionally intense, and not only tuneful but tremendously moving. ”
Based on the Edna Ferber novel, Showboat tells the story of a group of performers while also addressing the racial and societal upheavals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II will be conducted by John DeMain.
Featuring Ashley Brown, Nathan Gunn, Alyson Cambridge, Morris Robinson, Angela Renée Simpson, Ross Lehman, Cindy Gold, Ericka Mac, and Bernie Yvon, the production is directed by Francesca Zambello, who directed the work at London’s Royal Albert Hall as well as a semi-staged production at New York’s Carnegie Hall.
“Show Boat is a work that set a benchmark for everything to come,” explains Zambello. “We could not have had Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Sondheim without this work. Nor could we have found a bridge from opera to our own American art form. I have long believed that musical theater is ‘our’ version of opera. We now need to find a way to allow opera and musical theater to live harmoniously in our American theater and opera-house landscape.
“Show Boat has it all. “It gives us a rich musical study in opera, operetta, vaudeville, and musical comedy, but – equally important – a compelling American story of social and political importance. Based on the classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, it tells a complex tale of the inhabitants of a Mississippi River show boat from the1880s through the 1920s, in which the lives of the Hawks family and their troupe on the boat parallel the vast social changes of the time. Through Magnolia Hawks, a young girl coming into womanhood, the story confronts the powerful issues of miscegenation and racial injustice along with the tenderness of youthful love and the tragedy of abandonment with a child. Ferber’s story took a clear-eyed, revolutionary look at the sprawling, messy society of the post-Emancipation years, the Industrial Revolution, and the conflicts between the North and South – issues still with us today. Kern wrapped it in joyous and heart-breaking songs that have become part of the fabric of our lives. The work is compellingly historic and contemporary all at once.”
The new production begins on February 12, and runs through March 17, 2012 at the Civic Opera House on 20 North Wacker Drive.