Tuesday, June 3, 2014

San Francisco Opera "Show Boat" Cast Garners Excellent Reviews

Morris Robinson lets loose with his booming voice for the role of Joe at the War Memorial Opera House.
"A couple of highlights: There's granite-voiced bass Morris Robinson, as the stevedore Joe, pacing himself through 'Ol' Man River,' aligning with the show's African-American chorus to build this iconic number -- part spiritual, part dirge -- into a majestic cry for justice. There's actor and comic Bill Irwin, as Cap'n Andy Hawks, who is all fluid motion and spark-plug energy: clowning, moon-walking or floating like Fred Astaire. His face is plastic. He is pure expression and heart -- an unforgettable performance. Not that Show Boat is light fare. What it is is an intensely American hybrid, celebrating vaudeville, jazz, opera, spirituals and popular song. It addresses distinctly American themes: racism against African-Americans and opposition to inter-racial marriage, especially. These themes play out aboard the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater -- a showboat with its own troupe, led by Cap'n Andy. His daughter, Magnolia Hawks (soprano Heidi Stober, perfect as the ingenue), is the story's pivot. We follow her through her ill-fated marriage to gambler Gaylord Ravenal (baritone Michael Todd Simpson) in the 1880s, and then through single motherhood and her resolute fashioning of a career in the 1920s New York theater. A subplot involves Magnolia's best friend, Julie La Verne (soprano Patricia Racette), who is bi-racial and has been 'passing' for
white. Discovered by the authorities, she and her white husband, Steve, are forced to leave the troupe, which performs to segregated audiences. There's tragedy aplenty, though the show's underlying message is one of joy. To hear 'You Are Love' sung by Stober and Simpson is to hear a classic operatic duet, as fragrant as Puccini. 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat
Patricia Racette as Julie La Verne
Man,' as ignited by Racette and chorus, will ring in your ears long after the curtain falls (though the soprano really found her mojo on 'Bill,' a heartbreaker). As Queenie -- Joe's wife, as well as cook on the Cotton Blossom -- soprano Angela Renée Simpson leads two powerful numbers: 'Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'" (ominous gospel) and 'Hey, Feller' (foot-patting jazz), which foreshadow two sides of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Simpson sings with bell-clear chest tones and blues, marrying the two worlds at the heart of this remarkable show. The choruses are on fire. The dancers are off the charts, thanks to choreographer Michele Lynch. As the vaudeville duo Schultz and Schultz, Kirsten Wyatt (a total sketch as Ellie Mae) and John Bolton (as Frank) spell comic relief. Carmen Steele, who portrays Young Kim, Magnolia's daughter, is a natural actor and pure-voiced singer. [Source]

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