A scene from Showboat at The Lowry
A scene from Showboat at The Lowry

THE date – the day after boxing day way back in 1927. Lovers of musicals are still in festive mood arriving at a New York Theatre.

In the bitter cold they’re unaware that their lives are about to change.

It was the night the death-knell sounded for the glitzy Ziegfeld Follies and night of the birth of a show that would be life-altering.

The full-blooded Show Boat has never lost its appeal, even, if today, the segregation of the blacks and whites offends us. It was the first musical with a social conscience.

This big-hearted Showboat is a Wales Millennium Centre production in collaboration with the Lowry and Cape Town opera and on the first night at the Lowry, the audience had, without doubt, some miles on the clock, many remembering the hit film from decades ago. Writer Jerome Kern is on record as saying “it’s the story I’ve wanted to write all my life.” Oscar Hammerstein II was also delighted with instant success.

At Showboat’s root is a simple love story – but one which caused controversy in dealing with mixed-race marriage, marital discord, gambling and alcoholism. Musical fun met serious drama.

Wonderfully stage at the Lowry, it was obvious from the start that this wasn’t a souped-up show for today. The glitter-dust had been left as tradition ruled and those well-remembered old numbers were alive again.

Rightly the show is stolen by Otto Maidi playing the part of Joe, whose treacle-rich voice had the audience thrilled. His Ol’ Man River brought the house down and as he made his final bow, brought a standing ovation.

Other lovely and memorable numbers included Make Believe, Can’t Help Lovin’ ‘Dat Man of Mine and Make Believe.

It’s true, the river just keeps rolling along, and after many decades it’s still vibrant, questioning and wonderfully entertaining.

Show Boat is on at the Lowry until Saturday.