Though the first ‘showboat’ or floating musical theatre on the Mississippi River was launched in 1831, it took about one hundred years for the word to find its way into the vocabulary of the world’s population.
The last surviving steamboat/showboat, the Goldenrod, was designated a National Landmark in 1968. Read more about it here and see a picture. Though renovated and opened as a dinner theatre, it closed in 1991.
Edna Ferber’s novel Showboat first came to life on the stage in 1927 at the hand of master showman Florenz Ziegfeld (of Follies fame). It contained many firsts in and of itself:
- 1st linking of plot and music--not a play, not a musical--but interrelated
- 1st serious themes (alcoholism, miscegenation, desertion)
- 1st blacks in major performing roles
Contrary to Ziegfeld’s feelings on opening night, the show was a huge success, a sell-out wherever it played.
In 1929, the book became a film starring Laura LaPlante and Joseph Schildkraut. Here’s more factual information on the groundbreaking musical.
In 1936, Irene Dunne and Alan Jones reprised the roles of Magnolia and Ravenal. Helen Morgan sang the tragic Julie LaVerne, and Paul Robeson’s rendition of Old Man River is still renowned today.
Here’s more on the 1936 film.
Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel brought Magnolia and Ravenal to life again in 1951. This time Ava Gardner (with dubbed voice) played Julie LaVerne, and William Warfield sang Old Man River.
Over the years, Edna Ferber’s novel has leapt from its pages in song and dialogue all over the worl
Click for a timeline of it’s performances and additional information on the short-lived showboat phenomenon itself.
I’m not posting the movie posters due to copyright concerns, but do click on the links to see these wonderful works of art!
My fascination with riverboats/showboats stems from my visits to the Branson Belle in Branson MO. It’s where the idea for The Showboat Affair (written as Gwyneth Greer and published by The Wild Rose Press) originated. And I have another “showboat short” pending submission--more on that in a later blog--and also what's on my 'bucket list' concerning showboats.
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