Old Man River…still stuck in my head

Seeing something in English and I’m familiar with at the Lyric Opera isn’t something I’m use to.  Usually I’m asking Val “what is it”, “what’s it about”, and “do I NEED to see it!?”.  If it’s good, even though on paper (or internet) it sounds dull, and Val says YES you have to see this show, I will.  And then something strange happened.  The Lyric Opera of Chicago decided to do a production of a musical!  The old, old musical Showboat – we’re talking a musical from the 20’s and one that I never hear too many people doing any more.  

In learning about what it takes to put on Showboat I understand why too many places don’t take this feat on any longer.  For one, you have to have one ENORMOUS stage to fit, well, a showboat on….Then you have to make a show from 1927 appeal to a whole new audience.
I think Lyric did a good job of putting this show on though.  What was most interesting to me though, was the fact that the star of the show was not the opera fan’s heartthrob, Nathan Gunn (who’s shirt stayed on the entire time, sorry ladies and some gentlemen 😉  )  But instead the shows set brought gasps and applause to the audience instead.  The singers had to stop singing for a bit, so the inanimate object could get its applause time in!  Amazing.  And yes, it was incredible. 

Beginning with the false wood panel wall coming apart in three pieces during ‘Old Man River’ and revealing behind it the front of a showboat pulling (yes it was moving) into the ‘dock’.  Incredible, and felt very surreal, like the theater was on that dock for a moment.  Some other scenes of note that the audience (and myself) adored, were the Palmer House and the park.  The Palmer House Hilton is highly recognizable to most Chicagoans.    So when the curtain rose to show the gorgeous ceiling, staircases and interior of the hotel, murmurs of approval ran throughout the main floor.  The perspective was dizzying and I envy the eye of whoever painted it.  Then there was a scene in the park which made you feel like you were outside, downtown Chicago (a LONG time ago based on the buildings or lack thereof in the scene) and flying kites.  One thing I love about this city?  Flying kites is still much adored here.  Beaches, parks, wherever!  Love it!  

The singers were great, though it was weird to see people I’ve watched in other operas, well, singing in English for one!  Not to mention, Nathan Gunn not having as big a part (and shirtless).  He came across well though as the swarmy Gaylord, and stole the heart well from Magnolia.  

One cast member that gets a mention all his own is Morris Robinson who plays the part of Joe.  Better known as, “the guy that sings ‘Old Man River’ throughout the show”.  His deep and sultry voice was amazing, and perfection for that role and more importantly, the one song that everyone knows from Showboat.  He was the only actor who received as much applause as the false boat did on stage.

I’m liking Lyric’s effort to bring in some new things not usually seen at operas, and if this is the beginning of that, then I welcome a new direction.  And am super curious to see what they bring to the table next.  We already know that subscribers get to see Renee Fleming herself in ‘Streetcar Named Desire‘.  Now, how does lil ole me get a ticket to that?  *wink*


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Chicago girl living for the theater, museums, and happiness.

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