Cast and creative team give a preview of Asolo Rep's 'Show Boat'
It only seemed logical that the Asolo Repertory Theatre would hold a news conference for its upcoming production of "Show Boat" on the water. So it chartered the Marina Jack II and set sail with all the cast and creative team, reporters and some donors into Sarasota Bay for a little advance publicity.
Four of the cast members got the crowd warmed up with a rousing rendition of "Ol' Man River," led by Michael James Leslie, who plays Joe in the production, which begins Nov. 12.
Michael Donald Edwards, the theater's producing artistic director, spoke passionately about how "Show Boat" fits into the theater company's five-year effort to explore the American Character.
"Show Boat" was a ground-breaking musical when it opened in 1927, marking the start of what we now know as musical comedy because of the way it blended song, story and dance.
Before "Show Boat," most musicals were more like Ziegfeld Follies productions, featuring a wide variety of vaudeville performers, show girls and dance numbers, with little connection from one scene to the next. It also marked the first time that white and African-American performers shared a stage.
Director Rob Ruggiero created what amounts to a sort of chamber version of the musical at the Goodspeed Opera House two years ago. His version features a cast of 25 (as opposed to the 75 or more who performed in the original), and an orchestra of eight musicians. At Asolo Rep he is working with the same choreographer (Noah Racey, seen in Sarasota last summer in his original dance musical "Noah Racey's Pulse") and scenic designer Michael Schweikardt, who also designed "Barnum" at Asolo Rep. F. Wade Russo, the assistant musical director at Goodspeed, is now serving as musical director.
The cast includes Ben Davis reprising his Goodspeed role as Gaylord Ravenal, who falls in love with Magnolia Hawks (Marissa McGowan) the beautiful daughter of Cotton Blossom owners Captain Andy Hawks and Parthy Ann.
Joel Blum, who played the role of Frank Schultz in Harold Prince's 1994 Broadway production of "Show Boat," plays Captain Andy, opposite Dorothy Stanley as Parthy Ann. She also starred with him as Ellie May Chipley in the 1994 production. Frank and Ellie, the song and dance team, are now played by Denis Lambert and Elisa Van Duyne. Daniella Dalli plays the singer Julie LaVerne, while Michael James Leslie plays Joe, opposite E. Faye Butler as Queenie.
The cast also includes recent FSU/Asolo Conservatory graduate Brittany Proia and Griffeth Whitehurst, who was in last season's production of "1776."
"Show Boat" begins on Nov. 12 and opens on Nov. 15, with performances continuing through Dec. 29 at Asolo Rep, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information: 351-8000; asolorep.org
Below you can hear a bit of "Ol' Man River" as performed on the cruise.