Opera Scotland

Show Boat

Tours by decade

1920s - 1 tour

1928 - Theatre Royal Drury Lane Ltd
Fully Staged with Orchestra

1990s - 1 tour

1991 - Opera North
Fully Staged with Orchestra

Tours by location


Jerome Kern (born New York, 27 January 1885; died New York, 11 November 1945)


Oscar Hammerstein II


Novel (1926) by Edna Ferber.



First Performance: New York (Ziegfeld Theater), 27 December 1927.

First Performance in UK: London (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), 3 May 1928.

First Performance in Scotland: tbc (Autumn 1928).



Show Boat has deservedly retained a place in the repertoire, with revivals constantly showing it to be a work of genius. The serious nature of much of the storyline was certainly controversial in its day, and its head-on presentation of controversial subjects in post-Civil War American society set a precedent that has allowed later music dramas to follow. The fact that it contains several great musical numbers no doubt helps, with Ol' Man River, Can't Help Lovin' that Man, Bill and many others becoming enduring classics.


Main Characters

Cap'n Andy Hawks, owner of the Cotton Blossom.

Parthy Ann Hawks, his wife

Magnolia, their daughter (soprano)

Queenie, ship's cook (mezzo-soprano)

Joe, Queenie's man (bass)

Julie LaVerne, leading lady and Steve Baker's wife (soprano)

Ellie May Chipley, an actress (mezzo-soprano)

Gaylord Ravenal, a gambler on the boats (tenor or baritone)

Frank Schultz, an actor (tenor)


Plot Summary

The action opens in 1890, and ends in 1927, spanning the lives of Cap'n Andy and his wife, their daughter and grand-daughter. While the Cottom Blossom is central to the story, much of the action takes place on the quayside at Natchez, Mississippi, and in the very contrasting environment of Chicago.

While the show boat has a stopover in Natchez, Magnolia Hawks meets a professional gambler, Gaylord Ravenal. They fall in love, and, against determined opposition from her mother, they marry. Pete Gavin, the show boat's engineer, tries to seduce Julie, the company's leading lady, who remains staunchly loyal to her husband, the actor Steve Baker. Driven to jealous rage, Pete reports them to the local police, on the grounds that Julie is part-coloured. Miscegenation is a criminal offence in large areas of the south. To everyone's surprise, Steve now admits that he too has some coloured ancestry, so while they can continue together, they must leave the company. The leading roles are conveniently taken over by Magnolia and her husband.

When the boat plays at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, the family is reconciled and doing good business. However Ravenal's gambling becomes an unhealthy compulsion, and within another decade he abandons his wife and daughter and disappears. Twenty years pass, with Magnolia's solo career a success, Julie's increasingly on the skids. Kim herself develops as a star in the twenties, and mother and daughter are at last reunited on the Cotton Blossom, where a chastened Ravenal rejoins them.

The Cast

Belle Fatima
Cap'n Andy Hawks
 owner of the 'Cotton Blossom'
 doorman at the Trocadero
Ellie May Chipley
 an actress on the 'Cotton Blossom'
Faro Dealer
Frank Schultz
 an actor on the 'Cotton Blossom'
Gaylord Ravenal
 a professional gambler on the river boats
 pianist at the Trocadero nightclub
 Queenie's man
Julie LaVerne
 Steve Baker's wife and leading lady
Kim Ravenal
 daughter of Gay and Magnolia
Magnolia Hawks
 daughter of Andy and Parthy Ann
Man with guitar
Mother Superior
Mrs O'Brien
 a landlady
Old Lady on the Levee
Old Sport
Parthy Ann Hawks
 Cap'n Andy's wife
Pete Gavin
 towboat engineer on the 'Cotton Blossom'
 ship's cook on the 'Cotton Blossom'
Rubber Face
Sheriff Vallon
Steve Baker
 leading man of the 'Cotton Blossom' company
Young Kim

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