THEATER: Just Keeps Rollin' Along

Make-believe at its best, Hal Prince's lavish Broadway staging of Show Boat brings back the glory of Jerome Kern's music

It's easy to say what's wrong with Show Boat, the seminal 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II that steamed onto Broadway this week in an $8.5 million blaze of spectacular stagecraft. Based on Edna Ferber's novel about a floating theater on the Mississippi River, the show has always been too long and thematically sprawling. The most engaging characters, the light- skinned black Julie and her white husband Steve, virtually disappear before the intermission, while the coincidence-plagued second act rambles episodically from 1889 to 1927. Over the years, some critics have found the treatment of blacks patronizing and often...

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