Show Boat
Show Boat
Music by Jerome Kern | Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II | Based on the novel "Show Boat" | By Edna Ferber
Spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, this lyrical masterpiece concerns the lives, loves and heartbreaks of three generations of show folk on the Mississippi, in Chicago and on Broadway (and their life-long friends). The primary plot follows Magnolia, the naive daughter of the show boat captain, as she marries a gambler and moves with him to Chicago. His gambling continues as his debts compound, and soon he deserts her and their young daughter. A subplot concerns the potential arrest of Magnolia's selfless best friend on charges of miscegenation when it's discovered that she is mulatto, and her subsequent downward spiral into despair. The passing of time reunites Magnolia and her now-grown daughter with her family on the show boat as well as with her husband, who eventually returns offering a hopeful second chance at familial fulfillment.
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News for Show Boat

Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's SHOW BOAT opened at the New London Theatre on April 25, 2016! Read the reviews!  read more
The recent San Francisco Opera production of the stage classic SHOW BOAT starring Tony Award® winners Bill Irwin and Harriet Harris is set to be presented in a new Blu-ray™ edition coming out next month. read more
"Siam sur Seine" - "Siam on the Seine."  So did the company of The King and I at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris name themselves during their triumphant reign earlier this summer.  This resplendent production, starring international opera star Susan Graham (alternating with Christine Buffle) and French film star Lambert Wilson, represented the R&H musical's Parisian premiere.   read more
If you really like theater, there are few experiences as cool as standing off stage in the wings during a curtain call.  If that moment marks the end of a limited run of a production that has clearly energized the theater, it becomes all the more remarkable.  read more

Stand behind the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, today and you get a pretty good feeling of what the Mississippi River must have felt like in the era of Edna Ferber's novel SHOW BOAT.  You are literally on the banks of the Connecticut River, either on the shore or on the dock at which boats can still tie up. read more

Trivia for Show Boat

Did you know? Oscar Hammerstein II had scant success in the decade between his groundbreaking collaborations with Jerome Kern on SHOW BOAT (1927) and with Richard Rodgers on OKLAHOMA! (1943). Reflecting on this period during his later triumph, Hammerstein filled a "Seasons Greetings"" advertisement in Variety with a list of his flop shows, titled ""I've done it before and I can do it again."""
In 1885 was the birthday of legendary composer Jerome Kern, writer of SHOW BOAT in collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein II.
In 1994, the Hal Prince-directed revival of SHOW BOAT premiered at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway. The revival ran for 947 performances, making it the most successful production of the show to date. In 1995 the show won five Tony Awards, including Best Direction and Best Revival of a Musical.
The birthday of Susan Stroman, Broadway director and choreographer whose credits include choreographing the 1994 Hal Prince revival of SHOW BOAT (earning her a Tony) and the 2002 Trevor Nunn revival of OKLAHOMA! For New York City Ballet she created DOUBLE FEATURE in 2004, featuring the music of Irving Berlin and Walter Donaldson
In 1926, writer Edna Ferber signed a contract giving Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern "dramatico-musical rights"" to her novel SHOW BOAT."
In 1929 the original production of SHOW BOAT closed at the Ziegfeld Theater after 572 performances.
In 1927, SHOW BOAT came to Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theater, staged by Oscar Hammerstein II. The show ran for 572 performances.
Did you know? In a 1987 studio cast recording of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, opera stars sang the leads, with Eileen Farrell as the Mother Abbess, and Hkan Hagegrd as the Captain. The role of Maria was sung by Frederica Von Stade (b. 1945) an American opera singer highly lauded for her mezzo-soprano voice, and known for performing The Barber Of Seville, The Merry Widow, Pelleas Et Melisande and . This recording was part of a trend to create ?cross-over? albums featuring opera singers performing traditionally musical theatre roles. SHOW BOAT, SOUTH PACIFIC and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN were among the shows to receive this treatment.

 Press for Show Boat

  • Quotes
"Musicals don't come a lot better than SHOW BOAT, and indeed they wouldn't come at all had it not been for this one." — International Herald Tribune, January 01, 1998
"Excellent ...perilously close to being the best New York has exceptionally tuneful score...every ingredient that the perfect musical should have." — The New York Times, January 01, 1927
"SHOW BOAT has become part of the American experience, part of our folklore, with Ol' Man River' occupying a permanent place in our collective unconcious." — The New Yorker, January 01, 1994
"SHOW BOAT dates from 1927's for the ages." — Chicago Tribune, January 01, 1996
"A jewel of the American theater...Featuring so many perfect scenes and songs that it is impossible to mention them all. SHOW BOAT is the granddaddy of every great musical ever written!" — Los Angeles Times, January 01, 1996
"A masterpiece!...SHOW BOAT is a great and richly entertaining musical." — Houston Chronicle, January 01, 1998

Musical Numbers for Show Boat

Song #
Song Name
Character Name
Other Versions

Edna Ferber, who wrote the novel “Show Boat” upon which the musical version is based, dedicated the first edition of her book published in August of 1926: “To Winthrop Ames, Who First Said Show Boat to Me.” In 1924, Mr. Ames had produced the play “Minick,” a collaborative effort by Miss Ferber and George S. Kaufman, based on one of Miss Ferber’s short stories. During its out of town tryouts the play was not received with great enthusiasm and Winthrop Ames jokingly told his company that the next time he produced a play he would rent a show boat and drift down the river, playing the towns as they appeared. Edna Ferber was fascinated to learn that a show boat was a floating theatre on which the company lived and acted. She was anxious to learn more about this almost forgotten piece of Americana.
It is possible that the first floating theatre sailed the Mississippi River as early as 1817. The first craft expressly designed as a show boat was called the Floating Theatre and it was launched in 1831. It consisted of a crude hut atop the hull of an ordinary barge and it floated downstream from Pittsburg to New Orleans. Traditional show boats were never self-powered (not even by those huge side or rear paddle wheels) but actually pushed by small, twin-stacked steamboats called towboats. It was the towboat’s pilot, rather than the show boat’s captain, who was largely responsible for navigating these curious crafts through the winding and dangerous rivers. Although show boats developed in form over the years, the classic prototype of the late 19th century and early 20th century had three decks. Audiences would board the lowest or main deck at the bow end. They would buy tickets from a window at the front of the cabin and enter the auditorium with its long central aisle that ran down to the stage towards the rear. The auditorium itself comprised the entire width of the boat, with a narrow balcony along the sides. Small staterooms aft and sometimes towards the bow served the troupe as combination sleeping quarters and dressing rooms. A narrow, exterior second deck generally ran around the entire boat. Show boats rarely had rooms on the top deck.
By the 1840’s, the rivers were swarming with show boats- family-operated and offering plays, musical programs and many other forms of entertainment to the country people. Audiences were drawn to the show boat when they heard the calliope, a steam-driven pipe organ that heralded its arrival and could be heard for miles. For as little as twenty-five cents, the hard-working farm hands, miners and tradesmen could buy a few hours of diversion. The Civil War interrupted this successful business for a time but in 1869 a new age of show boating began which was to thrive until around 1915, when motion pictures began to supplant the floating theatres, even in rural communities, and by 1925 this medium of entertainment had all but disappeared.
Fortunately, in 1924 Edna Ferber heard about James Adams Floating Theatre, a family-operated show boat that served the coastal tidewaters of Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Miss Ferber traveled to Washington, North Carolina, where she met Charles Hunter and his wife Beulah, know professionally as the “Mary Pickford of the Chesapeake” and sister of James Adams, who owned the show boat. Edna Ferber spent several days on this floating theatre taking notes. She learned that a typical show boat company consisted of a romantic leading man and woman, the ingénue and juvenile leads, a character team, a general business team, a heavy, and a general utility man. Often the towboat crew members doubled in the band. Armed with her research material, Miss Ferber left for Europe in the summer of 1925 and began to write her show boat novel.
“Show Boat” first appeared in serial form in the April through September 1926 issues of Woman’s Home Companion. The early installments attracted attention and even some film offers. Publication in book form by Doubleday, Page & Co. brought instant success and a request from Jerome Kern for the rights to convert it into a musical play, a pledge from Oscar Hammerstein 2nd to adapt the book and write the lyrics, and a promise from Florenz Ziegfeld to produce it.
The musical SHOW BOAT was to have been the first production to play the new Ziegfeld Theatre, New York, early 1927. However, Kern and Hammerstein refused to be pressured into hasty production and pleaded for more time. Thus it was not until December 27, 1927, that the show opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre where it was to stay for 77 weeks. SHOW BOAT was hailed as a masterpiece, as a trail-blazer and as the finest musical show of the age.
The 1927 Broadway production of SHOW BOAT was but the forerunner of many New York, London and regional productions, as wells as three film versions. Its appeal has lasted at least as long as the heyday of the show boats but, in contrast, its popularity shows no sign of waning. Born in the mind of Edna Ferber as the era of show boating came to an end, interpreted in words and music by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Jerome Kern, like “Ol’ Man River,” SHOW BOAT just keeps rolling along.

The story begins in the late 1880’s and the first scene takes place on the levee at Natchez, Mississippi, where the show boat, Cotton Blossom, is moored ready for that night’s performance. Cap’n Andy Hawks, a jolly and generous man, is the owner of the steamer that piles the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. He and his domineering wife, Parthy, are the parents of a lovely daughter, Magnolia.
Julie LaVerne, the leading lady of the show boat company, and Steve, the leading man, are happily married. However, Pete, the engineer of the Cotton Blossom, likes Julie and tries to give her unwelcome gifts. Steve warns Pete to keep away from his wife and when Pete threatens revenge Cap’n Andy fires him. Pete informs the local sheriff that Julie is a mulatto. The fact that she is married to a white man, a criminal offense in that state, forces Julie and Steve to leave the show boat. Magnolia is distressed as she adores Julie.
Meanwhile, the handsome, dashing river boat gambler, Gaylord Ravenal, is drawn to the show boat by the sound of a piano being played on board. He discovers the player is Magnolia and is immediately attracted to her. As he has been warned by the sheriff to leave town within 24 hours, Ravenal seeks passage on the Cotton Blossom. Cap’n Andy grants him his request but then presses him into service as the new leading man. Magnolia becomes the leading lady and soon the on-stage romancing becomes real. Parthy does not approve of Ravenal and tries to get him dismissed. Cap’n Andy will not hear of it and gives his blessing for Magnolia and Ravenal to marry.
The Ravenal’s prosper through Gaylord’s gambling and they move to Chicago where they are visited by Cap’n Andy and Parthy at the time of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The marriage is a happy one.
A decade passes and although Magnolia is still in love with Ravenal he, down on his luck, decides to abandon her and their young daughter, Kim, thinking that Magnolia will return to her parents on the show boat. Ellie and Frank, former members of the Cotton Blossom cast, and now a prosperous vaudeville pair, find Magnolia in a shabby boarding house with very little money. They try to get her a job at the Trocadero Club where they work. The featured singing at the club is Julie, who accidentally hears Magnolia audition for the manager and she sacrifices her own job to give Magnolia a break. On Magnolia’s debut, she is jeered by the audience but it so happens that Cap’n Andy is in the crowd and he persuades them to listen to her and Magnolia finishes her act in a blaze of glory.
Some 20 years later, Cap’n Andy and Ravenal are on the upper deck of the Cotton Blossom, listening to a radio broadcast by Magnolia, now a famous musical comedy star. Having met Ravenal by accident, Cap’n Andy has persuaded him to stay to see his wife and daughter, who are due to visit the show boat. While reluctant to face Magnolia again Ravenal is most anxious to see Kim, now a young woman. Magnolia and Kim arrive. When Magnolia and Ravenal see each other they realize they are still in love and they are reunited. As Ravenals sings: “You taught me to see one truth forever true. You are love.”


The time: Tuesday, December 27th, 1927. The place: Broadway. The shows: Light, frivolous operettas with choruses of leggy beauties and titles like THE GIRL FRIEND, THE CIRCUS PRINCESS and THE STUDENT PRINCE IN HEIDELBERG. The magnificent Ziegfeld Theatre, known for mounting such girlie-show fluff as THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES OF 1915, is packed with theatergoers eager to see its latest production: something called SHOW BOAT, billed as "An All American Musical Comedy!" A few New York critics are in the audience, but most of them have chosen to spend the evening at the opening of a much more prestigious-sounding new play. What self-respecting critic cares for Ziegfeld’s kick lines and comedy sketches?

The lights go down. The crowd falls silent. The curtain goes up…

…and the stage is filled with an all-black chorus, dragging heavy bales of cotton across the stage. They are tired, they say. They are struggling. And as they toil, the rest of the stage fills up with spoiled, oblivious white people, flirting shallowly with each other and ignoring the injustice happening right under their noses…

No one was prepared for SHOW BOAT. The show was unprecedented not only in its ingredients—its social consciousness, its interracial cast, its rich and varied score, its vivid characterization through the music and lyrics—but also as a whole: quite simply, it invented the musical as we know it. A radical departure from the vaudeville—and burlesque—influenced revues that had crowded Broadway up till then, SHOW BOAT was a legitimate drama, told through song. The story was not just filler between musical numbers, but the driving force of the show; the lyrics were colloquial rather than clever; the choreography was plot-driven and realistic, not a showcase for female legs; and the set design strove for historical accuracy instead of modern stylishness. Its impact on Broadway, both immediate and long-term, was dizzying.

The musical is a faithful adaptation of a novel by the popular and Pulitzer-winning author Edna Ferber. Though the heyday of "show boats" themselves had long gone due to the invention of movies, Ferber was fascinated by the idea of a ship on which a theatrical company lived and performed. For research, she spent several blissful days living aboard the James Adams Floating Theatre, one of the last remaining show boats on the Chesapeake Bay. As she traveled with the company, she took notes and made friends with everyone; soon she had enough material for her novel, whose story spans half a century. Show Boat was published in August 1926 and became an instant bestseller.

Two of its biggest fans were the talented young librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and the composer Jerome Kern, who believed it had the potential to be a wonderful musical. Unsurprisingly, Ferber was horrified at the suggestion: in the 1920s, it was unheard of for a musical to deal with serious social issues, and she feared that her novel would be turned into a light comedy. But with Hammerstein and Kern's combined passion and idealism, it didn’t take long to convince Ferber that they were envisioning a wildly new kind of musical. Just three months after the novel’s publication, she signed a contract granting Hammerstein and Kern the rights to make SHOW BOAT a musical.

To their delight, Florenz Ziegfeld leaped at the opportunity to produce it. "This show is the opportunity of my life," he wrote upon hearing the first scrap of the score. "This is the best musical comedy I have ever been fortunate to get hold of." As he was used to working with vaudeville writers who cranked out entire shows in an hour, Ziegfeld woefully underestimated how much time Hammerstein and Kern would need. He demanded that they complete a full script in 21 days, and he was none too pleased when they turned out to need an extra nine months! He was lenient with them, however, for he truly believed in the show; and this was lucky indeed, for it was during these nine months that Hammerstein created what would be his greatest work yet.

Finally, opening night arrived. Ziegfeld crouched in the balcony steps with his secretary, Goldie Clough, and together they eavesdropped on the show. "Ol’ Man River" ended, and then they heard something that struck their hearts cold: nothing. There was no applause. The audience was silent. There was no applause after the next song either, or the next, or the next. It was a disaster.

Ziegfeld began to cry.

The next day, he came down to the box office and saw something that amazed him: a line of people that stretched all the way down the block. Bewildered, he thought there must have been a building on fire somewhere nearby. Then his secretary telephoned him and gleefully told him about the reviews.

"Shortly after the opening," wrote Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times on January 8, 1928, "the henchmen of the press were privately and publicly acclaiming it as the ‘best musical show ever written.’…This superlative praise of SHOW BOAT does not seem excessive." He predicted that SHOW BOAT was destined to be "one of those epochal works about which garrulous old men gabble for twenty-five years after the scenery has rattled off to the storehouse."

As it turned out, even this rave would prove to be an understatement. Since that fateful first night when the audience was too blown away to applaud, SHOW BOAT has been made into four movies, six radio plays, and seven New York revivals, and it has been performed all over the world.

A comparative study of all the different adaptations can double as a survey of 20th century racial history in America, for every era tweaks SHOW BOAT to suit its own values. The 1929 film version—which was originally shot as a silent picture, then hastily re-shot to incorporate a new fad called "sound"—completely cut the interracial love story, so as not to offend Southern audiences. The 1936 film stayed true to the musical and its racial themes, but the movie was controversial and little-seen because its star, Paul Robeson, was rumored to be a Communist. The 1951 film cut the all-black chorus entirely, and though Lena Horne was originally cast as Julie, the role eventually went to the all-white Ava Gardner.

Later revivals—including Harold Fielding's 1972 production in London, a Houston Grand Opera national tour that made it to Broadway in 1983, and a Papermill Playhouse performance in 1989— have stayed truer to the 1927 version of the show. Interestingly, though, SHOW BOAT's creation was so chaotic that a definitive "original" libretto has never been agreed upon, an ambiguity that has allowed its later directors an unusual amount of creative leeway. Most notably, the 1993 Hal Prince revival restored previously unused songs for a production that emphasized, rather than softening, the show’s racial politics: it pointedly showed the black chorus doing all the work, moving the sets and cleaning up the mess left by the white characters.

In 1993, SHOW BOAT's place in the cultural pantheon was secured once and for all when it received an unprecedented honor: along with three other American musicals, it got its own United States postage stamp.

Today, SHOW BOAT remains a beloved classic, with many of its songs familiar standards. Not only is it agreed to be the first modern musical, but it still holds up as a moving and entertaining show in its own right. No other musical is so inextricably linked with the history of Broadway—and of America itself.

Show Boat in the hands of its makers, New York Public Library , July 08, 2014
Written By: Todd Decker

In the following blog post, Professor Todd Decker examines four of the early typescripts of Show Boat that can be studied at the Library for the Performing Arts. He uses the Library's call numbers to identify the four copies. There are two copies in box 5 of the Billie Burke/Florenz Ziegfeld papers, one of which was once separated from the papers under the classmark: RM7430. One is in our collection of older musical theater libretti (NCOF+) and other remains separate under classmark (RM7787).

Historians of the Broadway musical should be grateful for the typewriter. Most of the archival sources we look at are typescripts like the four scripts for Show Boat, the 1927 musical by composer Jerome Kern and lyricist and bookwriter Oscar Hammerstein II, featured on this post.
Typescripts can be beautiful and (thankfully) theyre easy to read. Ziegfeld/RM7430, the earliest complete draft to survive, was typed in two colors (black for dialogue; red for stage directions) probably by Hammerstein himself. Hammersteins hand shows up as well in numerous pencil edits, additions, and deletions. Notice how clear his handwriting is: tiny, even, perfectly-formed capital letters. He also had a less legible, scrawling cursiveperhaps indicative of more hurried workthat shows up every once in a while in the archives (see a sample at the top of page 2-28). In RM7430, Hammerstein does everything from finetuning the dialogue to anticipating places where more time might be needed for a set change. On page 1-37, the words This is Sung. were added in pencil by Jerome Kern and most of the terse notes about musical matters are in the composers handwriting. With notations by both lyricist/bookwriter and composer, RM7430 brings us very close to the creative process that produced this very famous show.
Show Boat was made slowly. Most shows in the 1920s were put together in a matter of weeks: Show Boat gestated for over a year. The four typescripts at the NYPL, together with others at the Library of Congress and at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, capture like a series of snapshots this very famous show on its path towards Broadway.

RM7430 likely dates to January 1927. (Show Boat would open that December.) The second page includes a cast list. Opposite typed character names, Hammerstein has added in pencil the names of a few actors. Prominent here is Paul Robeson as Joe. Show Boat was conceived to feature Robeson, a major African American dramatic and musical star active on New York City stages. Robeson was famous for singing Negro spirituals in concert and Show Boats most famous song, Ol Man River, was written specifically for him. Kern even traveled to Harlem, uptown Manhattans black neighborhood, by one report with his hat in hand to present Robeson with the song. When RM7430 was typed up, the understanding was that Robeson would be in Show Boat. Late in act two (see page 2-53), Hammerstein scripted a break in the action for Robeson to sing a short recital of spirituals as himself: in this version, Show Boats Joe is the father of Paul Robeson. The plan was for Robeson to play both parts. Obviously, inclusion of the recital was entirely dependent on Robeson saying yes to Show Boat. A script in the Library of Congress from August 1927 admits as much, with the typed indication (If Robeson is not engaged, this recital comes out.) In the end, Robeson declined the offer to be the first Broadway Joe and the recital was cut. And so, in addition to the hands of Kern and Hammerstein, the shaping influence of Robesona sort of performers invisible hand in the making of the showcan also be found in the Show Boat sources.
NCOF+ is something of a mess. This source dates to November 1927, when Show Boat was in rehearsal and playing out-of-town tryout stands in Washington D.C. and Cleveland. (By the time they played Philadelphia, the show was set.) NCOF+ is a working document and its exciting to look at for that reason. Some of Show Boats signature moments appear for the first time in this source in simple pencil annotations, among them the titles of two old songs famously interpolated into the score: Bill and After the Ball. When looking at the real item at the NYPL, you can tell by touch which pages of NCOF+ were inserted into the original complete typescript by noting the different kinds of paper: a tactile aspect of archival sources that digital images cant capture. Here, the pencil notations are mostly practical: lines of dialogue and entire musical numbers crossed out to tighten up the very long show, the names of chorus members assigned single lines of dialogue. NCOF+ might have belonged to a stage manager or to Hammerstein, who was the de facto director of the show. Kerns hand shows up here, too. Look on page 1-23 for his adjustments to the lyrics for Ol Man River. Its hard to know if these changes were Kerns idea or he just happened to be the person to mark them into this copy of the script. Like RM7430, NCOF+ was passed around among Show Boats makers. Its general disarray suggests the creative ferment of a Broadway show in the making.
RM7787 is a very different kind of source. Its colored wrapper reveals that the Rialto Service Bureau, a typing service located in Times Square, produced this copy of a finalized text for Show Boat. Indeed, this script captures Show Boat as it played on Broadway during its original run at the Ziegfeld Theatre, a huge then-new theater at Sixth Avenue and Fifty-fourth Street that was demolished in 1967. (The fourth script included with this post, titled Ziegfeld Collection, also contains the show as done on Broadway.) RM7787 was donated to the NYPL by Anna Hill Johnstone, a well-known costumer for Broadway and Hollywood. Johnstone was too young to work on Show Boat in 1927 but it makes sense that she acquired this source at some point, for RM7787 is filled with handwritten notesin bright pink pen and dull green pencilconcerning costumes for the show. This is a technical document that enumerates costume needs for principal characters, small roles, and chorus members. (It seems to refer to the original production but might have been used in planning for the 1932 revival.)
In accounting for every body on the stage, the costume notations in RM7787 run up against the issue of race. Show Boat breaks a general rule of the Broadway musical: it presents an interracial portrait of America where blacks and whites share the stage (instead of the more common separation of musicals into all-black or all-white casts). In act one scene one, pink notations in RM7787 assign letters to each group of chorus members: A for 16 colored men; B for the Gals (Hammersteins term for the women of the black chorus); C for 24 white girls (called Mincing Misses in the script), and D for 16 White men. Later in act one (see page 1-5-60), Show Boats black cook Queenieoriginally played by a white woman in blackfacesings a song to entice the colored chorus to buy tickets for a show in the show boat. Queenies dialogue refers to that crowd over on de levee. In green pencil, the costumer marking up RM7787 wrote in groups B & A?as if the contextual clues in the dialogue didnt quite settle the question of who was in that crowd. As the costumer surely knew, black and white crowds alike could be expected to respond to the musical overtures of a rousing blackface showstopper. Because it puts black and white Americans in the same scene on the same stage, Show Boat inevitably raises these sorts of issues. And a costumers question mark in RM7787 reveals a bit of how the makers of Show Boat dealt with these questions which remain a part of American life today.
Todd Decker is associate professor of music at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical [Oxford] and the forthcoming Who Should Sing Ol Man River?: The Lives of an American Song [Oxford].

Courtesy of The New York Public

Awards for Show Boat

Tony Awards

January 12, 1970 — 3 Nominations, including Actress (Musical) and Director

Vocal Range of Characters:

Photos for Show Boat

// Photos

Writers Notes for Show Boat

Written By: Edna Ferber

As the writing of the musical play proceeded (and its ups and downs were even more heartbreaking than those of most musical plays) I heard bits and pieces of the score. Once or twice everything was seemingly abandoned because Ziegfeld said he couldn't produce the play. Almost a year went by. I had heard 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' with its love-bemused lyric...I had melted under the bewitching strains of 'Make Believe' and of 'Why Do I Love You?'...And then Jerome Kern appeared at my apartment late one afternoon with a strange look of quiet exultation in his eyes. He sat down at the piano. He didn't play the piano particularly well and his singing voice, though true, was negligible. He played and sang 'Ol' Man River.' 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. This was music that would outlast Jerome Kern's day and mine. I have never heard it since without that emotional surge. When SHOW BOAT was revived at the Casino Theater in New York just four years after its original production at the Ziegfeld I saw a New York first-night audience, after Paul Robeson's singing of 'Ol' Man River,' shout and cheer and behave generally as I've never seen an audience behave in any theater in all my years of playgoing.

Written By: Alice Hammerstein Mathias

For the 1946 revival of SHOW BOAT, my father Oscar Hammerstein II inserted a note in the program giving P.G. Wodehouse full credit for the lyrics to “Bill.”  Wodehouse did write the original lyric, but my father contributed to the song as performed in SHOW BOAT. In addition, as was customary in the 1920’s, the authors interpolated three ‘modern’ selections to the second act. They are John Philip Sousa’s “The Washington Post March,” Joseph E. Howard’s “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” and Charles K. Harris’ waltz “After the Ball.”  All three have become part of the traditional score of SHOW BOAT.

- Alice Hammerstein Mathias

Performance Tools for Show Boat

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MAKE YOUR OWN PLAYBILL! Playbill VIP allows you to create your very own Playbill Program. We have provided Playbill with all of the credits, song listings, musical numbers and more so that most of the work is already done for you. Just add your productions details, photos of the cast and share it with all of your friends. Learn more:

Rental Materials for Show Boat


  • SHOW BOAT - Orchestra Package (18 Books/27 Players)
    • 1 – FLUTE (Doubling Piccolo)
    • 1 – OBOE (Optional English Horn doubling)
    • 1 – CLARINET I-II
    • 1 – BASSOON
    • 1 – HORN I-II
    • 1 – TRUMPET I-II
    • 1 – TROMBONE
    • 2 – PERCUSSION (see "Materials Notes", under "Production Information")
    • 4 – VIOLIN A-B-C-D
    • 1 – VIOLA (Divisi)
    • 1 – CELLO (Divisi)
    • 1 – BASS
    • 1 – BANJO/GUITAR (Requires two players)
  • Rehearsal Set (22 Books)
    • 20 – Libretto-Vocal Books
    • 1 – Logo CD
    • Digital Logo


  • Libretto/Vocal Books 10 pack
    • 10 – Libretto-Vocal Books
    • 1 – Libretto-Vocal Books

Cast Requirements for Show Boat

5 Women
5 Men

3 Women
4 Men
1 Girl

Large singing-dancing ensemble with numerous small roles and children

Windy - the pilot on the Show Boat
Steve Baker - the leading man in the Show Boat Troupe
Pete - the engineer on the Show Boat
Queenie - the African-American cook on the Show Boat
Parthy Ann Hawkes - Cap'n Andy's wife
Cap'n Andy - the captain of the Show Boat
Ellie May Chipley - the soubrette in the Show Boat Troupe
Frank Schultz - Ellie's boyfriend, the villain in the Show Boat Troupe
Julie LaVerne - Steve's wife, the leading lady in the Show Boat Troupe, multiracial
Gaylord Ravenal - a handsome gambler
Sherrif Vallon - of Natchez
Magnolia Hawkes - Parthy and Andy's daughter
Joe - Queenie's husband, an African-American stevedore
Congress of Beauties
Jim Greene - the director of the floor show at the Trocadero Nightclub
Jake - the pianist at the Trocadero
Charlie - the doorman at the Trocadero
Mother Superior
Kim (child) - Magnolia and Ravenal's 10-year-old daughter
Old Lady on Levee

Set Requirements for Show Boat

SHOW BOAT takes place along the Mississippi and in Chicago during the late 19th Century and in 1927.

The Levee at Natchez on the Mississippi
Kitchen Pantry of the 'Cotton Blossom'
Auditorium and Stage of the 'Cotton Blossom'
Box Office, on Foredeck
The Top Deck
The Levee at Greenville
The Midway Plaisance, Chicago World's Fair
Room on Ontario Street
Rehearsal Room, Trocadero Music Hall
St. Agatha's Convent
Trocadero Music Hall
Stern of Show Boat

Materials Notes

PIANO NOTE: A piano is not intended to be used as part of the original orchestration, but an on-stage pianist is required.
Trap Set, Timpani, Bells, Xylophone, Triangle, Chimes.

Featured News

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Rodgers and Hammerstein Europe 2014
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