“Aside from the heat, outdoor theater is so wonderful because of that open space. It’s kind of like singing and performing to the whole world. The number of people in the audience doesn’t matter; you’re just playing to everything out there.”
Jennifer Pond Warren can’t wait to begin “performing to the whole world” in her second season as Julie Laverne in the encore production of Show Boat. She loves being part of a “time-sensitive” piece that looks back on a conflictive slice of American history, one that showcases such classic tunes as Ol’ Man River and I Still Suits Me.
Spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, Show Boat is a lyrical masterpiece that tells the sometimes heartbreaking stories of three generations of show folk on the Mississippi River, in Chicago and on Broadway.
The limited-engagement show will share the stage with Stephen Foster-The Musical at Bardstown’s 1,450-seat J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre in My Old Kentucky Home State Park.
Based on the novel Show Boat by Edna Ferber, the production, in its second year, is again presented by Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives through special arrangement with The Rogers & Hammerstein Theatre Library in New York City.
Says Jerry Schureman of East Kentucky Power Cooperative: “Kentucky’s electric cooperatives continually look for opportunities to display the Touchstone Energy name to a wide variety of co-op consumer-members and non-members. The Show Boat production fits very well into our plan to let people across the state understand the unity, stability, and strength of our program. We are also very proud of the arts in Kentucky, especially as it relates to the rural areas. The Old Kentucky Home amphitheater certainly gives us an opportunity to help showcase an important facet of rural Kentucky.”
Show Boat is running in repertory for 15 shows with Stephen Foster-The Musical (entering its 44th year, Warren plays leading lady Jane McDowell, the object of affection of America’s first great composer).
“Julie of Show Boat is much more weathered than Jane of Stephen Foster, and Jane is much less experienced than Julie,” explains the Louisville native. “Show Boat is technically different, too. I’m singing classical for Jane and a little more along the lines of musical theater for Julie.”
Warren says the pace of the performances is both demanding and exhilarating.
“We’re already going with Stephen Foster when we start rehearsing Show Boat. But the roles are so completely different, I never waver from one role into another.”
The actor is not alone in facing the challenges of alternating between two demanding productions.
According to Show Boat‘s director, D. Scott Holsclaw, challenges are inherent in producing a show on the same lot as an ongoing show.
“There’s also the issue of designing scenery that enhances the production of Show Boat without detracting from the production of Stephen Foster-The Musical. Also, we are re-staging some of the scenes and condensing the show so that it will run in the two-hour time slot. It is our concern that both shows are of professional quality. So far we feel we have achieved this goal.”
Another goal for Holsclaw has been to capitalize on the caliber of talent in the company of actors, many of whom perform in both shows.
“The talent this year is looking to be exceptional. We have worked very hard to secure a strong cast. Many of the same actors are returning, and we are adding many new and experienced performers.”
Holsclaw adds that producing two shows provides the cast another opportunity to perform and the public another chance to see top-quality musical theater at the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre, which five years ago underwent a $1.6 million renovation.
“It’s a way to get our local and regional audiences back to the theater if they haven’t been in awhile,” notes Bill Coleman, executive producer of the Stephen Foster Drama Association, which produces both shows. “The flip side is that it really helps us to find a better performer to work with us. Needless to say, if someone is offered a part in two different shows, it looks better on the resume.”
Adding Show Boat last year was a way to diversify what the theater offered and to entice not only more actors to come to Bardstown, but more theater-goers as well. There was a feeling that audiences that experienced Stephen Foster-The Musical had no reason to return to the area–at least not in terms of theater. With the addition of a second show and an ongoing concert series that has brought such headliner acts as the Temptations, Merle Haggard, and the Dixie Chicks to town, the Drama Association was bolstering the local performing arts scene and drawing more tourists to the area.
“There was a dramatic increase in attendance on nights that Show Boat ran,” says Coleman. “We’re giving our visitors a reason to stay two nights in the area and see both shows. If we have a concert on Monday night, they could stay three nights.”
In technical aspects, Show Boat proved an excellent companion piece to the long-running Stephen Foster-The Musical because of comparable cast size (there are about 50 roles in each show) and the similarity of some of the settings.
“Show Boat had enough roles. The thing that makes producing it unique is the same thing that makes Stephen Foster unique: it’s outdoors. Our show boat is life-size. It has two decks. People come off of it.
“It seems so much larger in scale and it is,” notes Holsclaw. “Sound, light, bugs, weather–all the obvious problems when you move outdoors aside–the feel of the space is different for the actors and for the audience.
“The projection of the actors, not only verbally but physically, requires a different style more appropriate to the outdoor performance than the indoor performance.”
Adds Warren, “In an enclosed space you’re kind of playing to the exit sign. In the outdoors, you’re playing to everything.”
With fireflies sparking the air and nocturnal noises supplementing an already rich musical score, the outdoor theater production of Show Boat unfolds for another season.
If you go… Show Boat , recognized as a true Masterpiece of American Theater, returns to the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre for an encore season. With music by Jerome Kern and books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, it is a treasure trove of unforgettable songs: Ol’ Man River, Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man, and Only Make Believe.
The 2002 season of Show Boat runs from July 17 to August 18, with performances every Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday.
Show times: 8:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday and Thursday; 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday.
Tickets: $15/adults; $7/children ages 7-12; free children 6 and under; $20/preferred seating. Senior and group rates available.
Information: (502) 348-5971 or (800) 626-1563, fax (502) 349-0574, go online at www.stephenfoster.com, or write P.O. Box 546, Bardstown, KY 40004.
If you want to pair Show Boat with Stephen Foster-The Musical, it is back for its 44th season in the lavish 1850s musical homage to the composer from Pittsburgh, who gave Kentucky its anthem in My Old Kentucky Home. It includes more than 20 original songs and compositions: Oh! Susanna, Camptown Races, Beautiful Dreamer, and of course, My Old Kentucky Home.
The 2002 season begins beneath the stars on June 8 and runs through August 24.
Show times: 8:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday through Saturday; 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday; and at 2 p.m. EDT on Saturdays in the air-conditioned indoor theater. Ticket and information same as Show Boat.