Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man Of Mine...

Settling into our new life together is a work in progress, but a month after moving, Justin and I are starting to settle into a new sense of normalcy in our lives. Things are calming down for us; though our weekends are still mostly filled with home improvement projects, organizational tasks, and cleaning, we've also started returning to some of the old mainstays of our relationship -- watching movies on the couch, trying new restaurants, and going to the theater. We'll still be doing the restaurants and theater to a lesser extent than we did before, now that we are house-poor, but tonight we were the beneficiaries of some generosity from Justin's parents, who had extra tickets to see Show Boat at the Lyric Opera.

Show Boat seems like kind of an odd choice for the Lyric, considering it's not an opera, but it was one of the very first musicals in the sense that we think of them today. It combined spoken and sung dialogue, dance, and a serious dramatic plot rife with controversial themes such as miscegenation and racial prejudice. Before Show Boat, American musical theater was dominated by revues, or collections of songs unrelated to any unifying plot, and dancing was not used to advance the narrative action but to showcase attractive women who would have been considered scantily clad by the standards of the time. Therefore, this revolutionary work by Kern and Hammerstein provided the template for the modern musical.

I've seen Show Boat once before, when I was almost too young to remember it, but I do recall that the last production I saw was a more traditional version. The Lyric's version, while brimming over with elaborate costumes and sets that one doesn't typically see with traveling Broadway productions, featured a strange combination of singing talent. Don't get me wrong, some of the performers, such as Morris Robinson, who played Joe (singer of the work's most famous song, "Ole Man River"), were absolutely brilliant. However, the cast seemed evenly divided between people singing in a traditional Broadway musical style, and people singing in the bel canto style associated with classical opera training. Given that Show Boat isn't an opera, the bel canto singing was distracting to me, and at times, it even made the characters seem a little ridiculous.

By all means, Show Boat was an enjoyable night at the theater. The music and lyrics may be a bit old-fashioned, but the plot and issues at play therein remain remarkably relevant today. Plus, after seeing many sad, stripped-down traveling productions of some of Broadway's greatest works, like Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, it's refreshing to see a show produced with its proper pomp and grandeur. Distracting vocal inconsistencies aside, the Lyric's version of Show Boat is musical theater as it was meant to be seen.

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