Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II's landmark 1927 musical Show Boat was given a powerful updating in London in 1971 with a production, opening July 29 at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End, that gave the show its longest run yet, 910 performances. The most striking aspect of the revival was the casting of Cleo Laine in the role of Julie La Verne, the doomed, mixed-race singer who handles the torch song "Bill" and, in this version, "Nobody Else but Me," a song written for the 1946 Broadway revival, when it was sung by the character of Magnolia Ravenal. Laine remains the standout on this lengthy cast album (originally released as a two-LP set), even though her only other appearance is on "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man." She makes little or no attempt to be anyone other than Cleo Laine singing songs from Show Boat (which means that the plot point in which Julie is attempting to pass for white doesn't work), and the production takes its cue from that virtual anachronism. Keith Amos' orchestrations have a lively, contemporary feel, and the characterizations are transparently phony: The chorus sings in a British accent, and André Jobin makes no attempt to hide his French accent in portraying Gaylord Ravenal. (Maybe he figures Ravenal is from New Orleans.) Thus, this has to be called one of the more idiosyncratic recordings of Show Boat, especially from an American perspective. But that doesn't keep it from being enjoyable, especially because of Lorna Dallas, who plays Magnolia and gets plenty of space, and Jan Hunt as Ellie May Chipley ("Life Upon the Wicked Stage"). Thomas Carey's Joe is better at "I Still Suits Me" than "Ol' Man River." This is not the first Show Boat to buy, but it is a good one.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann