Show Boat is a musical play with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics and librettist by Oscar Hammerstein II. It is considered to be the first true American musical play and opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Broadway in December 27, 1927.
The play tells the story of the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over a period of 40 years from 1887 to 1927. The characters, who are a mixture of white and African-American, experience love, heartbreak, racism, and triumph as they journey up and down the Mississippi.
Show Boat was groundbreaking for its time as it tackled themes of racial prejudice and miscegenation, which were controversial topics in the United States in the 1920s. It also featured a fully integrated cast, with both white and black actors performing together on stage, which was rare at the time.
Show Boat was a critical and commercial success, running for 572 performances and launching the careers of many of its cast members, including Paul Robeson, who played the leading role of Joe. It has been revived numerous times and has inspired numerous adaptations, including a 1951 film, a 1962 Broadway musical, and a 1989 television film.
Show Boat’s impact on the American musical theater cannot be overstated, as it paved the way for future musicals to tackle more complex themes and paved the way for more integrated casts. It remains a beloved and influential work in the history of American theater.