Operagasm Exclusive Review: Central City Opera’s Showboat
by Christie Connolley
Opera companies must adapt to survive. That is a simple reality of our time. Those that continue to schedule stale productions of Le Nozze di Figaro and La Boheme on an endless loop without concern for the changing demographics and culture of its audience are doomed. Those companies should take a lesson from Central City Opera, who made some unusual moves with the 2013 festival season. The final production this season is the musical Showboat; and in an unprecedented move Central City Opera took the production on the road to the Buell Theatre in Denver, enabling them to reach a larger and more diverse audience.
The show opened on a replica of an open Southern style barge, which housed the orchestra on stage behind the action. Initially, a scrim covered the stage, replicating the maze of lazy Southern rivers and a sign for the town for ‘Nachez’…. wait, what? I am no Southern Spelling Bee champion, but shouldn’t it be Natchez?
Correct spelling was quickly just a distant memory once Soloman Howard, who played Joe, sauntered on to stage. He was a tall, muscly cup of hot chocolate…. and I was very thirsty…. He launched into Ol’ Man River, which seemed to scrape the bottom of his vocal range, but was on the whole booming and richly sonorous. Did you hear that splash? That was just me throwing myself into that Ol’ Man River, swimming toward Soloman Howard…. don’t mind me….
Then there was Troy Cook as Gaylord Ravenal. Casting aside the mustache that made him look borderline creepster waiting in his car at a highway rest stop, he was incredibly handsome and that voice, people, that voice! He just opened his mouth and a towering, ardent tone just came pouring out. Will someone throw me a life preserver and a towel? I think I am changing course….
Hats off to the ladies as well! Particularly, Emily Pulley as Julie LaVerne. The melodic voicing in Musical Theatre can brutally exploit the voice’s movement between the head and chest voice, more so than opera. Pulley negotiated that division seamlessly. Her rendition of Bill was beautifully sung and incredibly moving.
Kudos to Julia Burrows as Magnolia Hawks, Gene Scheer as Cap’n Andy Hawks, Denise Lute as Parthy Ann Hawks, Angela Renee Simpson as Queenie – absolutely hilarious, Ellen Kaye as Ellie May Shipley, and Curt Olds as Franck Schultz, who may or may not have channeled Andy Dick in this role.
Showboat marked the first time I have heard a conductor say anything (on purpose) within earshot of the audience. Conductor Hal France doubled as the rehearsal pianist in one of the scenes and although his acting was a little stiff, his conducting was fabulous. He had a fantastic energy and the love of the score just radiated from him.
Central City Opera undoubtedly reached out to and won over new audiences with this production. A new audience who may for the first time drive up the mountain next summer to see Central City Opera in its natural habitat.