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Timeless "Show Boat" just keeps on rolling along

By Patricia Cronin
Who knew when Edna Ferber wrote "Show Boat" in 1924 that almost seven decades later, it would still be in the minds and hearts of theater-goers.
This timeless play about love, jealousy, hatred and forgiveness goes through the full range of human emotion. Show Boat deals with the tension between blacks and whites in the South after the Civil War.
The story unfolds on a riverboat, which hosts a family of traveling actors and sideshow attractions. The situations that arise between the characters, like the interracial marriage of Julia and Steve, are still relevant in today's society.
The relationship between Julia and her husband is an interesting one. Julia is from a racially mixed background, and it is illegal for a white man to be married to a woman with any black blood in her. Rather than leave her side, Steve cuts Julia and swallows some of her blood so that the sheriff cannot say that he does not have any black blood in him.
The racial situations in the play provoke thoughts of how hard it must have been to be black in the South. In the dialogue, some of the black slaves are called "niggers" by the white characters in the story. At first, it is shocking to believe they are allowed to use a word that negative at all in a play at the Wang Center. But in the context in which it is used, it is appropriate due to the impact it makes. It reinforces how much of a derogatory term "nigger" was then and still is today. Also, if you pay close attention during the scene changes, it becomes obvious that the black slaves are responsible for picking up and straightening out the scenery.
The costumes and choreography are excellent. They show the `20s as a very happy, crazy time. The last scene is especially vibrant. It is meant to contrast the darkness in the South after Reconstruction with the bright future that people believed the `20s held.
An objection that becomes evident is the way in which the writers make all of the women in the play seem fragile and unable to survive on their own without a man. Perhaps this is because of the time in which the play was written, when women were expected to be unable to care for themselves. Parthenia, Magnolia's mother, is the one strong female character in the story, yet she is really just for comic relief.
Another disappointment is the fact that the audience does not know what happens to Julia. After she leaves her job singing at the club so that Magnolia can take her place, the story leaves Julia as a beggar in Chicago.
The sets are realistic and change quite quickly and smoothly. The singing and music are amazing.
Edna Ferber was quoted as saying, "The music mounted, mounted, and I give you my word my hair stood on end, the tears came to my eyes, I breathed like a heroine in a melodrama. This was great music."
That quote says it all.

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