The first musical to be staged at the Albert Hall, Show Boat is a logical choice for such a big theatre - it's a great big show, not only for the size of its cast but for its ravishing music, its historic importance, its span of time and space, and its themes. The director, Francesca Zambello, points up the 1927 musical's daring emphasis on the great American dilemma by dividing the chorus equally between black and white performers; the evening ends with its dancing couples, for the first time, racially mixed. But this note of utopianism is stronger than any merely human ones in a production that is efficient rather than emotional.
The voices in this Raymond Gubbay extravaganza are mostly West End ones, but two are from the opera house. Mark Coles (Joe) starts "Ol' Man River" somewhere in the sub-basement, hauling up pity and terror with it, and Angela Renee Simpson (Queenie) is bewitching in the eerie "Mis'ry's Comin' Around", jolly and crispily articulate in her comic numbers. Under David Charles Abell, the Royal Philharmonic is powerful, subtle and lush.
Opera singers in Broadway roles can sound overblown, but not when the score is by Jerome Kern. The problem, rather, is that the other singers, with unexceptional voices and not much in the way of personality, have their defects exaggerated by the need to slam even intimate moments into the topmost tier.
It's fine for John Owen Jones, as Gaylord Ravenal, to approach the heroine with sweeping romantic gestures, but not for Elena Shaddow, as the innocent Magnolia, to respond with even broader mannerisms and steel-plated perkiness.
Rebecca Thornhill (Julie, the tragic mulatto) and David Burt (Magnolia's father, Captain Andy) lack warmth, but the former provides a rare touching scene by emphasising the contrast between the sweet words of "Bill" and the hard-bitten character singing them. Unlike the rest of the lyrics (by Oscar Hammerstein), these were written by PG Wodehouse.
As the captain's sourball wife, Jenny Galloway makes her part more comic than it is with a dyspeptic drawl reminiscent of WC Fields.
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