Friday, August 26, 2011

Mercury Summer Stock: Show Boat

The idea of "Hide and Seek" in a art museum seems a bit sacrilegious but done quietly and respectfully it's a bit of a brain stretch to remember what objects match clues* and a lot of fun. Continuing a bit of a tradition, after working late at the museum Rachel -- it was her turn to hide -- texted the clue and then I seeked after I snuck out of the office. After browsing the contemporary galleries for a bit it was time to choose the next activity of the evening.

I had been pondering Mercury Summer Stock's production of Show Boat if for no other reason than the venue: The Cleveland Play House's Brooks Theater at the 8500 Euclid location was the host to the first play I saw after moving to Cleveland -- short-lived Fourth Wall Productions' Plans Change; and in all likelihood, Show Boat will be the last.

We made the short trip from the Museum down Euclid and found a full parking lot; the lobby was full to the point of overflowing, and when we made it to the front of the line we found that the show had sold out, however, if we stick around there was a good possibility that we could fit in at the last moment. It turned out that gamble worked. Taking our seats I realized that I had absolutely no idea what Show Boat is about; leaving the theatre, I'm still a little foggy.

I think the best description is "uneven": Parts of the production were done quite well, and others seemed slapdash and poorly integrated. The costuming and set were both quite good and evoked the period, but the choreography and pacing just felt off (parts of the first act seemed nearly interminable, though the second act seemed to move more quickly). Musically, something just didn't feel right but I couldn't put my finger on it. Having the orchestra on stage throughout was nice, but the piano was a bit loud during, and just on the verge of drowning out, scenes of pure dialog. When it came to solos, all of the actors were quite pleasant to hear, but duets and ensemble pieces suffered from a general lack of cohesion.

The Wikipedia article (as the program offers no synopsis beyond the list of musical numbers) suggests at least two locations, a Riverboat and Chicago: The Riverboat was clear, the transition off the boat in Act II was abstract and not marked in any meaningful way: It took me far too long to piece that together.

Though rough around the edges, the show does deliver on basic entertainment including well-timed quips that garner plenty of laughter gingerly spread throughout.

Unquestionably, though, Brian Keith Johnson (whom I have heard sing twice with The Cleveland Orchestra -- during the 2010 Christmas Concerts and the Martin Luther King Concert earlier this year) stole the show belting an amazingly powerful Ol' Man River early in Act I.

*Tonight's: "A House scene? Hardly. Though this window and these lamps belonged to houses at the beginning of the century."

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