1927 Original Broadway Production

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1927 Original Broadway Production

On December 27, 1927, crowds trickled into the Ziegfeld Theatre on 54th Street, the first to witness the latest show from Florenz Ziegfeld – a highly anticipated affair. The pre-show scene was described the following day in the New York Times review: “There they milled about elegantly in the lobby, were pictured by flashlight photographers, and finally got to their seats and to the business at hand.”

Unlike the dazzling revues for which Ziegfeld was known, Show Boat paved an uncharted path with a bold and ambitious vision; here was a new kind of musical operetta comedy with three-dimensional characters dealing with serious, realistic themes woven into a substantial plot.

Going in, audiences could never have expected to witness a show so groundbreaking, but the endeavor proved more than successful– it was an instantaneous hit. At the end of the opening night performance, however, this was not clear to Oscar Hammerstein II. Because there were no curtain calls or bows in this first production, a momentary silence loomed in the audience as the curtain fell. Polite applause was heard, and the crowd made its way into the winter evening. When the rave review came out the next day, hailing Hammerstein’s book and referring to Kern’s score as “exceptionally tuneful,” Hammerstein finally realized the show was a hit.

And the musical’s success was enduring; Show Boat’s original production played 572 performances, opened the following spring on the West End, toured for years, and returned to Broadway numerous times over the course of the subsequent century.