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  • 'Show Boat' docks at Bellport's Gateway Playhouse'

    Published: August 6, 2008

    For the fifth time in Gateway Playhouse's 58 years, "Show Boat" is docked at the Bellport stage. You'd think Gateway would have the hang of it by now. And you'd be right.

    Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein invented the modern American musical with this 1927 masterpiece. Now, 81 years after its debut, "Show Boat" remains as relevant as ever. Substitute gay marriage for miscegenation and the plot could be ripped from the headlines.

    This story of love, bias and broken dreams at a Mississippi floating opera finds new resonance as Bill Theisen directs Jillian Louis as star- and lovestruck Magnolia; Robert Lydiard as her dad; and Isabel Santiago as Julie, who "Can't Help Lovin' That Man." Dan Tullis Jr. and an all-testosterone chorus give a fine gospel take on "Ol' Man River." Then close your eyes and you'll believe it's Howard Keel singing "Only Make Believe" instead of opera-trained Tommy Wazelle.

    More than a relic, "Show Boat" is an American treasure once again lovingly revived at Gateway.

    Showboat rocks Gateway Playhouse

    Published: August 7, 2008

    Gateway Playhouse's 59th season continues with the classic Showboat by Jerome Kern and Roger Hammerstein. Showboat was based on a novel written by Edna Ferber and adapted into a musical in 1927.

    Showboat spans over 40 years in the lives of the people that work aboard the Cotton Blossom, a showboat that performs productions up and down the Mississippi River. The story features many provocative themes that can still provoke a human reaction even though it's been historically a decade since the events that take place. Without giving away too much of the story, the implications of a biracial marriage in a post-Confederate South are explored early in the play. Later themes are just as shocking and heart-wrenching.

    The actors all do an amazing job at making their characters real so the audience can truly feel for them. Jillian Louis does an amazing job at portraying Magnolia Hawks, who we see at three very distinct sections of her life through the play. Tommy Wazelle, who played Gaylord Ravenal, gave a very smooth performance. Isabel Santiago, who played the mixed race Julie, created a woman who was felt throughout the play despite only having a major role in the first act.

    Of special note was the performance of Dan W. Tullis Jr. as Joe. His performance of "Ol' Man River" stole the show. His deep bass voice created chills through the entire theatre as he performed this song. Tullis has a resume that is just as impressive as his voice. He has appeared in eight feature films including Extreme Prejudice and Harlem Nights, has held recurring roles in television on Married With Children and Rachel Gunn, R.N., and worked with many famous actors such as Mickey Rooney, Donald O'Connor, Christine Ebersol, Eddie Murphy and Michael Maguire.

    The set and costumes of the show all evoke the eras of when the play takes place. They were all beautifully constructed. These help to bring passage of time into the show, as the story takes place over a long period of time. By the end of the show when it is roughly the 1920s, there are even references to the fact that the dress lengths were getting shorter, which was considered controversial in that period of history.

    It is impressive that Showboat still can stand on its own after decades of being performed on Broadway. The show's title may sound like it is a light-hearted affair, but it is actually incredibly deep and provocative. It is definitely worth seeing a performance of this production.

    Showboat will be running at the Gateway Playhouse until Aug. 23. After that, Gateway's 59th season will continue with Mel Brooks' The Producers at Patchogue Theatre from Aug. 27 to Sept. 13. It will then conclude with The Wedding Singer, a musical comedy based on the popular 1998 Adam Sandler movie, back at the Gateway Playhouse from Sept. 17 to Oct. 4.

    Also of note is the upcoming special event "An Evening with Psychic Jeffrey Wands" on Sept. 22. Tickets for this show will cost $35 a person and will include a special Supper Reception before the show.

    Tickets can be purchased to see Showboat or any of the other productions for Gateway's 59th season by ordering online at, by calling 286-1133 or 1-888-4TIXNOW, by mail to Gateway Playhouse Box Office, P.O. Box 5, Bellport, NY 11713, or by going to the box office at 215 South Country Road in Bellport during box office hours. Individual adult tickets cost between $41 and $45 depending on the show and children 12 and under cost $25.

    Gateway's Showboat Goes Full Steam Ahead

    By Roy Bradbrook.
    Published: August 1, 2008

    If you come away from this sizzling production without having some of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's glorious songs running through your head, you must have been fast asleep. Gateway's new production of 'Show Boat' is spectacular. The costumes recreate the beauty and elegance of the 1920's and the scenery brings to life the world of the show boats that brought song, dance and corny plays to the folk living along the banks of the Mississippi at the beginning of the twentieth century.

    The stars of the show though are the wonderful songs performed by what could well be the best collection of voices that Gateway has put on the stage in the last twenty years. 'Ole Man River' is without doubt one of the best known and loved songs of the American stage and will always be associated with the legendary Paul Robeson. Dan W. Tullis jnr., has a long history in show business mainly in films and on TV but he also has one of the most incredible true bass voices I have ever heard even on the opera stage. The packed house on opening night simply roared their approval when this intensely moving song came to an end, requiring him to reprise part of the song as an encore. This alone would have sent us home happy beyond belief but the other voices were also incredibly good. Tommy Wazelle, as the dashing Gaylord Ravenal, sang like tenors are supposed to sing. Beautiful diction and liquid tonal qualities that made us say that we could sit and listen to him all night. If there were any justice in show biz, he would be starring on Broadway. Jillian Louis as Magnolia Hawkes, the love of his life, has a very good voice so when they sang the wonderful duets, 'Only Make Believe' and 'You Are Love' it truly was romantic. Isabel Santiago, as Julie, a mixed race actress posing as white, was passionate and brought to life the worries of so many women as she declaimed the lyrics of 'Can't Help Lovin' That Man' and later in the show 'Bill', another song in the same plaintive vein.

    Show Boat was the first musical where black and white actors really shared the stage on equal terms, and within the play the terrible aspects of segregation, such as the 'crime' of miscegenation and the N-word are integral parts of the story. There are two choruses, one black and one white - total mixing of races in stage musicals still wouldn't happen for a long time to come. Both choruses are great and the choreography by Michelle Weber makes a vibrant kaleidoscope of color and really adds to the pace and drive of the show.

    The music of Show Boat ranges from the exuberant to the sad and as Joe's wife Queenie, Cynthia Cobb particularly stirred the emotions of the audience in the powerful song, 'Misery'.

    Frankly, the book of the show is not that great, years skip by because the action covers some fifty years and especially towards the end of the show it seems that Capt. Andy, played with great aplomb by Robert Lydiard, is rushing to cover the last twenty or so years in a few words.

    Show Boat is one of the all-time great American musicals and even though it was written eighty years ago the music and lyrics are still wonderful. It is very doubtful if any of the musicals of the past decade will be worthy of revivals in another eighty years but Show Boat and others from those golden days when Broadway musicals reigned supreme, are truly timeless.

    This is a production that really would grace any theater on Broadway. It is a pity that all of the large cast and backstage crew cannot be named and congratulated because this really is a wonderful team effort. Bravo!