(Lower) East Side Story

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The original Broadway production of Rags in 1986 was a notorious flop, running for just four performances. Despite the short run, it received five Tony nominations, including a nod for Best Original Score, and cast member Judy Kuhn gave a memorably fiery performance of the title song on the Tony Awards telecast the following year; a recording was released in 1991 featuring most of the original Broadway cast, with Julia Migenes standing in for original star Teresa Stratas, and that recording is the reason people keep going back to the show to try and make it work. Rags has book problems – even now, after umpteen rewrites, Rags has book problems – but the score as represented on that recording includes the best music Charles Strouse has written for the theatre (‘Blame It On the Summer Night’ might very well be the single best song he has ever written for anything, and it’s certainly among the best individual songs written for Broadway in the past fifty years), and some of Stephen Schwartz‘s most moving lyrics. This show’s music is a potent blend of Broadway, jazz, klezmer and opera, and it’s often magnificent; the structure surrounding it, unfortunately, has never quite lived up to the power of that score.

The show is essentially a kind of sequel to Fiddler on the Roof, which also has a book by Joseph Stein. The plot follows immigrants as they arrive in New York in 1910(ish) and try to establish themselves as new Americans living in tenements on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In all versions of the show – and there are many different versions of this show – the central figure is Rebecca Hershkowitz, a woman fleeing Russia with her young son David. Reading the Broadway production’s reviews, it’s clear there were too many subplots surrounding her; this rewrite, with a new book by David Thompson (Joseph Stein having died in 2010), premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 2017, and it does a reasonably good job of paring back the show’s various plot strands into a reasonably coherent narrative that is driven by Rebecca’s struggle to build a life in New York for herself and her son. Alongside this new book, though, Strouse and Schwartz have taken scissors to their score, and unfortunately the result is not an improvement. A certain amount of this music’s grandeur has been lost – and that’s allowing for the fact that in a chamber production like this one you’re never going to get Michael Starobin‘s magnificent original orchestrations – and some songs have been cut up/split/re-sequenced in ways that don’t completely make musical sense. Granted, this may be less of a problem if you’re less familiar with that 1991 recording than I am; even so, it seems a strange choice to make when the score has always been the piece’s biggest asset.

This production, at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, makes a very strong case for the material, though, and director Bronagh Lagan redeems herself here for her abysmal revival of Promises, Promises at the Southwark Playhouse a couple of years ago, which was so bad that her name on the credits almost stopped me from buying a ticket for this. There’s a real sense of community among the cast, Gregor Donnelly’s set somehow makes stacks of suitcases resemble the Lower East Side tenement blocks around which most of the plot takes place, the band (four musicians backstage augmented by four actor-musicians among the ensemble) sounds terrific, and Rebecca Trehearn is giving an absolutely luminous performance as Rebecca. No, she doesn’t have the kind of huge operatic voice you hear in Julia Migenes’s performance on the recording (and that audiences at the original Broadway production must have heard from Theresa Stratas), but she’s a glorious singer and an honest actor, and her rendition of Rebecca’s big anthem ‘Children of the Wind’ at the climax of the second act is very moving indeed.

There’s an excellent ensemble surrounding her, with particularly memorable work from Lydia White as Bella, the young woman Rebecca befriends on the boat to America, from Valda Aviks as a shrewd but charming widow with her eyes on Bella’s father, and from Robert Tripolino as Sal, an Italian union organiser. The choral singing is terrific, particularly in the complex, syncopated ‘Greenhorns’ near the top of the show and the reprise of ‘Children of the Wind’ in the finale. Everybody does their best with the dialogue, and the book – yes, even in this newly-revised version – lets everybody down. Inevitably given the way the show has been chopped and changed so much over the years, we don’t have a cast of characters here so much as a parade of stereotypes. It’s been refashioned from an ensemble piece into what more or less amounts to a vehicle for the actor playing Rebecca, but Thompson doesn’t give her enough to play with. We know she escaped a pogrom, that her husband is dead (that’s a rewrite, and a smart one; her husband was a significant – and obnoxious – character in the original version of the show, and her backstory works better if she’s a widow), that she’s a decent woman and a good mother,  that she can sew, and that arriving in America gives her a push towards a far more independent lifestyle than she’d imagined for herself in Russia… and that’s more or less it, and it’s a story that’s been told many times before, usually more compellingly than it is in Thompson’s book.

Some significant musical material has been cut, too, including a late-in-act-two aria called ‘Dancing With the Fools’; that cut in particular robs Rebecca of a certain amount of depth, although Trehearn somewhat manages to paper over the cracks. Songs are cut up and split apart in ways that are baffling if you know the score from the recording; we hear, for example, the verse of ‘Children of the Wind’ a full act and a half before we hear the (beautiful) refrain. Characters have been cut, new characters have been introduced, and some musical material has been switched between characters, not always to good effect; it makes theatrical sense to turn the title song into the Act One finale, but since this version of the show is Rebecca’s story rather than Bella’s, the song is made into a duet between Rebecca and Bella rather than a solo for Bella. That might not be a problem if the lyrics had been completely rewritten, but they haven’t been, and the song – a howl of rage at having travelled across an ocean to live in poverty in a slum – does not entirely fit the character Trehearn has established by that point in the show, although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her performance of it. The main portion of the song sounds like the kind of outburst that would come from a much younger woman, probably one who isn’t a mother – which of course fits the character it was originally written for. In the original version of the song, Bella’s father tries to talk her down; here, those lines are given to Bella, and arguments written from the perspective of a middle-aged father just sound plain unconvincing coming from a late-teenage girl. The (re)writing in that section of the show significantly undercuts both the performers and the song; it’s still a powerful moment, but – like a lot of the show – it would be so much more powerful if the lyrics consistently sounded as if they were written for the character(s) singing them.

Having said that, it’s worth seeing. This is not a show that’s going to be done often in the UK, and even though this production messes with the score in ways that don’t improve it, the best moments are certainly memorable, and while Bronagh Lagan doesn’t completely solve every problem in the writing, this is a strong production of difficult material, and it’s wonderful to see a regional fringe theatre take this material on and do such a loving job with it.

There are, however, a couple of things Hope Mill could (still) learn about the audience experience. Now, yes, I booked for the first preview, and first previews happen after a rush of activity that is sometimes difficult to complete within the allotted time. The show I saw was in excellent shape and you’d never have guessed it was the first public performance. HOWEVER, the performance ended up beginning thirty minutes late, and I’m afraid that demonstrates a certain disdain for the audience. This is Greater Manchester, not London; the transport system here shuts down earlier than you might expect (and certainly earlier than it should), and that’s even more the case the further you go from the city centre. For me, that thirty-minute delay was the difference between being able to get all the way home by tram/bus and having to use a taxi for the last part of the journey. The cost of the taxi won’t break me, but it’s money that needn’t have been wasted; there was an apology from the director at the top of the show, but it was sufficiently vague that it did nothing to dispel the suspicion that this production’s creative team consider themselves more important than their audience, which is exactly the wrong way around. Stay later the night before, show up earlier on the day, but fix your problems on YOUR time, not mine, and don’t waste my money because you failed to meet a deadline.

And when you advertise that your lobby/cafe/bar will be open from ninety minutes before showtime for drinks/coffee/light meals/whatever, it is unacceptably rude to keep customers who show up at the opening time you’ve advertised on your website and on the tickets waiting outside the door for twenty minutes because the director and her creative team haven’t got their shit together. That, again, suggests an attitude towards customers that is somewhere between disdain and contempt, particularly since at this theatre’s location there is nowhere else to go. Hope Mill, don’t get me wrong, is a wonderful facility, and a real asset to Manchester’s cultural scene – but the arrogance with which they treated patrons last Saturday night isn’t a good look for them. The work they present is fascinating; their manners, unfortunately, seem to leave a great deal to be desired.

 

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The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened?

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Imperfect but wow. Sensational but flawed. A set of dazzling performances, but there’s a good reason nobody owns up to the (atrocious) sound design in the programme. Any revue based around Stephen Sondheim‘s body of work is going to entail a series of trade-offs, and that’s certainly true here: this concert presentation at the Royal Festival Hall, based on a revue conceived by James Lapine that played on Broadway in 2010, draws from a body of work that by now is more or less inarguably without peer, but Sondheim’s songs are almost all so tied to their original contexts that it’s difficult for them to achieve the same impact when they’re performed as part of this kind of retrospective. The evening’s great triumph is that the six singers here – Liz Callaway, Damian Humbley, Tyrone Huntley, Claire Moore, Julian Ovenden, and Rebecca Trehearn – are such thrilling performers that they manage, more often than not, to make songs we’ve heard a million times before sound absolutely fresh. The evening’s great pitfall, on the other hand – I mean, apart from the frequent glitches in the sound system – is that while it does succeed in making these songs work in a new context, they are rarely as effective as they can be when they’re performed in the shows they were written for. As I said, there’s a trade-off: the evening is simultaneously wonderful and a bit of a bumpy ride.

The gimmick, as in this revue’s Broadway incarnation, is that Sondheim’s songs are linked together using video clips of interviews with the man himself, projected on a screen above the stage. The clips, for the most part, are chosen well (the screen, in a space the size of the Royal Festival Hall, could usefully have been a little larger), and Lapine has done an intelligent enough job of sequencing the clips to take us from Sondheim’s childhood and the beginnings of his songwriting career through his gradual rise to success and into a (very, very careful) discussion of which works feel most personal, which songs are autobiographical (almost none of them), the influences that shaped his career, and so on. It’s not necessarily a bad idea, although the segues between the video clips and the live singers sometimes feel a little abrupt, but the biggest problem with Lapine’s concept is simply that the audience for this kind of event is self-selecting. If you’re the kind of person who is going to go out and possibly travel some distance on a Thursday night to hear an orchestra and six singers – fabulous singers, all of them, but not Streisand-level stars – perform this material in concert, you’re probably the kind of person who already identifies as more than a casual Sondheim fan. If you’re already the kind of fan who would attend this kind of event, you’ve probably read at least some of the material covered in the video clips. You’ve probably read at least one of the books about him (it’s likely you’ll own at least a couple), seen at least one of the TV documentaries, and that means you’ll already be familiar with a fair amount of what he has to say in the clips Lapine has chosen here. It’s undeniably moving to see Sondheim talk about Oscar Hammerstein II, or about his reverence for the teaching profession, and there are some fascinating details here and there, like the conversation he had about marriage with Mary Rodgers as he started to write the score for Company. Sometimes, though, the clips undercut the music they’re supposed to introduce. We see a clip in which Sondheim tells us Assassins, in one respect, is the show he’s proudest of, because it’s the show that ended up closest to the vision he and John Weidman, his collaborator, had when they were writing it, and that it’s the only show he’s never had the urge to go back and change. Great, fascinating, but that clip is used to introduce Something Just Broke, which was written some time after the show’s original production closed, and (crucially) after the script had been published, and introduced in the London production a couple of years later. Granted, that’s a tiny detail – but this, essentially, is a show for Sondheim geeks (I wear the badge with pride, deal with it), and that’s precisely the audience who will pick up on that kind of trivia.

In fact, although it wasn’t precisely conceived as such, the concert’s greatest strength, perhaps ironically, turns out to be the way it celebrates Sondheim’s music. After a career littered with reviews that praise his lyrics at the expense of the melodies they sit on, in a revue in which we’re shown a series of clips where he discusses the craft of lyric-writing, the nature of collaboration, the need to focus on specific details in order to tie song lyrics into the dramatic scene they’re intended to serve, it’s refreshing – no, more than refreshing, it’s downright wonderful – to attend an event that puts his music centre-stage, even if there’s a bit too much talking around the edges. Because what this evening reveals – partly thanks to Keith Lockhart’s sensitive conducting, partly thanks to the sixty-five musicians in the BBC Concert Orchestra, partly thanks to Michael Starobin‘s orchestrations, partly thanks to the six wonderful singers at the front of the stage, but largely thanks to Sondheim himself – is that this music is glorious. We’re so used to hearing these songs in their original contexts, where they usually arrive accompanied with a lot of other information that the audience has to process simultaneously, that it’s easy to underestimate Sondheim-the-composer. The entr’acte – an orchestra-only arrangement of Kiss Me from Sweeney Todd, is as exciting as anything you hear all evening, and with this company of singers that’s saying a great deal.

All six, of course, get at least a couple of moments to shine. Liz Callaway kicks things off with a haunting, pristine rendition of Take Me to the World, from an original TV musical called Evening Primrose; it’s almost twenty years since I last saw her live (in Sibling Revelry, her cabaret show with her sister Ann Hampton Callaway at the Donmar Warehouse), and her voice is possibly even lovelier now than it was then. Damian Humbley, standing in at very short notice for another performer, takes the opportunity to remind us why his Franklin Shepherd, Inc. is probably now the definitive rendition of the song. Tyrone Huntley builds a careful, thoughtful Being Alive that manages to make the song’s climax moving rather than melodramatic. Julian Ovenden’s Finishing the Hat is as good a performance as the song has ever had. Claire Moore offers a haunting, haunted In Buddy’s Eyes. Best of all, for my money, is Rebecca Trehearn’s masterful take on the (very) difficult I Read from Passion. It’s far from the easiest song/aria/whatever to make work as a concert piece, but she succeeds triumphantly; it’s one of those performances that raises goosebumps, and someone – soon, please – has to cast her as Fosca in a full production.

There are ensemble performances too, of course, although there isn’t a chorus, and the six singers work beautifully together; the concert’s song list, though, is possibly as interesting for what it doesn’t include as for what it does. Only one of the three shows for which Sondheim wrote only lyrics is represented here, so there’s nothing from Gypsy or Do I Hear a Waltz?. West Side Story is represented not by any of the famous solos or duets, but by a jazzed-up four-part arrangement of Something’s Coming. It’s pleasant enough, and flawlessly performed, but it seems to have wandered in from a different set-list. There’s nothing from Pacific Overtures, very little from Sweeney Todd, one-and-a-bt songs from Into the Woods, only two songs from Follies – but four songs from Passion, five from Merrily We Roll Along, and we even get The Best Thing That Ever Has Happened in each of the (somewhat different) versions heard in Bounce and Road Show. In terms of showing us Sondheim’s range as a composer, the decision to use so much material from his lesser-known shows pays off in spades – but again, it means the show is possibly best appreciated by geeky superfans (as I said, I wear the badge with pride). In terms of the wider public, there are plenty of songs in the catalogue that are more familiar than much of what we hear (some of them were included in this revue’s original Broadway incarnation). What you also won’t hear is God, the wittily self-deprecating Act Two opener Sondheim wrote specifically for this revue’s Broadway production, and that’s a pity: it might have served to puncture the aura of REVERENCE that comes from having each successive musical number introduced by a very, very serious interview clip from the master himself.

The concert format, too, is somewhat distancing: none of the six singers has any trouble projecting their personality right to the back of the room, with no thanks to a schizophrenic sound system whose levels were frequently all over the place, particularly in the first half, but most of these songs were written to be staged rather than sung from behind a music-stand. The rudimentary direction is by Bill Deamer, and he’s drawn a superlative set of performances from these singers, but it’s all rather static, which is probably inevitable given the incredibly rushed timeframe in which this kind of event tends to be put together. And of course the biggest downside of privileging the music over the lyrics, unfortunately, is that the concert gives less of an impression than it might of what a funny writer Sondheim can be. As I said, inevitably this kind of event is going to involve a series of trade-offs. In this case, you trade some of the wit in favour of a revelatory performance of some of the music. If that trade doesn’t appeal, you’ll need to hold your breath until Follies comes back to the National next year. If it does, and you track down the radio broadcast, you may still be sorry-grateful (although the sound problems, fingers crossed, should have been resolved); the concert’s format may not entirely work, but the performances are sensational. And did I mention that Rebecca Trehearn’s I Read was worth the ticket price, the train fare, and the hotel bill? One more time: someone please cast her as Fosca. Stat.

 

 

 

How Glory Goes

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Or, ten things about Jonathan Butterell‘s revival of Adam Guettel and Tina Landau‘s Floyd Collins at Wilton’s Music Hall:

  1. If you’re going to write a show in which the title character spends nearly the entire performance trapped in a single spot, you’d better have something up your sleeve to keep people interested. Floyd Collins, which is based on real events, tells the story of the death of the title character, an American cave explorer in the 1920s whose entrapment underground sparked the first modern media circus as journalists raced to cover his rescue. The show’s secret weapon is Adam Guettel’s astonishing score, which blends a set of musical influences ranging from bluegrass to Bartok into something which turns out to be far more theatrically potent than you might guess from the slightly remote-sounding cast recording from the original off-Broadway production. The music is often dissonant, at least by the standards of contemporary musical theatre (anyone describing it as ‘atonal’ should be taken outside and beaten until they promise never to do so again), but it’s also surprisingly lush given that there are only eight pieces in the band, it’s full of soaring melodies, and the show’s big musical moments carry a tremendous emotional pull. The orchestrations, incidentally, are by Bruce Coughlin, who isn’t mentioned anywhere in the programme or on the show’s window card, and should be.
  2. Tina Landau’s book is a model of efficiency, and that’s a compliment. In this show, everything is in service to the music. In most musicals, the book is the backbone; that isn’t the case here.
  3. The lengthy opening sequence in which Floyd explores the caves is a musical tour-de-force, and a masterclass in how to use sound to tell a story. When Floyd finds the Great Sand Cave, he yodels a line of music, and an echo comes back (via the miracle of electronic voice capturing) – and then Guettel brilliantly transforms Floyd’s singing and the subsequent echos into a fugue.It’s a thrilling moment in the theatre, and it must be fiendishly difficult to perform, but it’s also a strikingly unusual piece of theatrical storytelling: you don’t see the cave, you simply hear it, and thanks to Guettel’s dazzling score, that’s more than enough.
  4. Or at least, it was more than enough for me. This is a musical that expects you to listen, and listen carefully. You can’t let it wash over you, the ending is bleak, the music is very demanding, and not everyone is going to enjoy it. And that’s OK. There should be room for things like this as well as for the Phantoms and Wickeds.
  5. Jonathan Butterell’s clearly-focused, unshowy direction puts the material centre-stage and gets out of the way. There’s little choreography, the set is mostly scaffolding, there are relatively few props, and the backdrop is the artfully-distressed bare plaster walls of the theatre itself. Nothing feels superfluous – at any given moment, it’s clear where your attention should be directed.
  6. The central performances are impeccable. Ashley Robinson sings the title role superbly, and makes that difficult opening number seem effortless. He’s an engaging actor, too, and he never puts a foot wrong in a role which must require tremendous concentration (for most of the show, he’s directly facing the audience on a narrow platform above the stage). His careful, restrained delivery of the show’s final number, ‘How Glory Goes’, is very moving indeed.
  7. That final number is as moving as anything written for the musical stage in the past twenty-five years. Guettel brilliantly dramatises Floyd’s death, again, using echoes: in the last sixteen bars of music, as Floyd once again sings against the echoes of his own voice, the band gradually dies away beneath him, and then the echoes slowly die away too. It’s a stunning, powerful ending, even if you know what’s coming.
  8. Lovely work, too, from Sara Ingram as Floyd’s stepmother,  and Samuel Thomas as his brother. Among the ensemble, the singing is flawless; the acting, however, is occasionally a little overcooked, most significantly in a song called ‘Is That Remarkable?’, a slyly sarcastic depiction of the spiralling media circus surrounding the attempts to rescue Floyd from the cave. It’s a clever song with biting lyrics, and the actors attack Guettel’s scalding three-part harmonies with enormous verve – but they also play the subtext on the surface to a degree that threatens to cross the line into cheap mugging, and less would have been considerably more. Not everything needs to be underlined.
  9. If there was any justice – and in showbusiness there often isn’t – Rebecca Trehearn would be well on the way to becoming a huge, huge star. She’s the real deal, and this is the second time this year I’ve seen her give a brilliant performance in a difficult role. As Floyd’s sister Nellie, who we’re told has recently been discharged from an asylum, Trehearn is simply mesmerising. She has tremendous presence, she finds precisely the right balance between adult strength and childlike simplicity, and she sings her (difficult) music beautifully.
  10. Going to the theatre in this country, particularly in London, often leaves you feeling as if someone is trying to extract money from you via every possible orifice. It’s refreshing, then, to arrive at Wilton’s – which is a lovely space to begin with – and find that programmes, which are so often a complete rip-off, cost just £3.00, which in this instance buys you a glossy A4 publication containing several full-colour production photos, along with bios of the writers, creative team, and cast. Ticket prices are more than fair, drinks are reasonable, the staff are friendly, and the toilets are clean. Other theatres, please take note.

Show Boat

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Once upon a time, when the Livent revival of Show Boat was running in various cities in the US and Canada and the Livent brand was still untainted by The Unpleasantness surrounding Darth Grabinsky, I planned a vacation around seeing it – in Chicago, in January, I think 19 years ago this week. It wasn’t perfect, but it was worth the trip – if for no other reason that I’ve never, since, seen a commercial production of a musical with 70-odd actors on the stage and 30 musicians in the pit. I wondered at the time how the numbers could add up – the theatre, the night I saw it, was far from full – and Mr. Drabinsky’s complicated legal history since then, and the various arrest warrants against him that are apparently still outstanding in the US, rather suggest that they didn’t.

The thing is, Show Boat, more than nearly any other classic American musical, demands to be done big. It’s an enormous show with a (justly) celebrated score, it has a large cast of central characters, it takes place in multiple locations, the plot spans four decades, and audiences expect to see the Cotton Blossom – the Show Boat of the title – on the stage in front of them. In this show, more than many, there are certain requirements that are very difficult to work around.

Or so you’d think. Daniel Evans’s revival, playing for another week and a half at the Sheffield Crucible, has a cast of 24 and a band of 11 – large for a regional theatre in this country, but tiny in terms of the resources usually thrown at a production of this particular show. In terms of performers/musicians, it’s more or less exactly one-third the size of the production I saw in Chicago. And it’s glorious. It’s based on the text used in a production at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut in 2011 (Show Boat’s production history could form the basis of a doctoral thesis – it’s far too complicated to explore fully here, because it’s one of those shows that seems to undergo some kind of revision with each successive revival), and it sits beautifully in the roughly 1000-seat Crucible.

Much of the show, in fact, is played right in the audience’s laps. The Crucible has a thrust stage; in Les Brotherston’s evocative bleached-wood set, a sunken playing area is surrounded by wooden boardwalks, and the Cotton Blossom, seen front-on, enters from the rear of the stage. Aside from the boat itself, and the Trocadero stage in Act Two, there are few major set-pieces apart from furniture (and, in the second half, evocative projections onto the back wall). It’s an impressive set but not an epic spectacle; the set pushes the scenes and musical numbers halfway down the thrust stage, lending them an immediacy and an intimacy that is the opposite of what you get when the show is staged behind a proscenium arch. This production is far more a character study than a sweeping panorama; you don’t get the spectacle or the string section or the huge chorus, but the gains outweigh the losses, for me at least. The performances are glorious – all of them, with special mentions for Gina Beck’s thrillingly-sung Magnolia and Emmanuel Kojo’s strong, dignified Joe – and the material somehow gains in power from being seen in a relatively intimate setting. The miscegenation scene is always moving, but it isn’t always this moving; Rebecca Trehearn’s Julie is another superb performance, but part of the scene’s added power in this production comes simply from the fact that you can see right into her eyes in the moment she’s forced to admit she’s been passing as white.

In terms of the text, the second act is a little more problematic. Again, it’s beautifully staged and performed here, but the second act of Show Boat was always weaker than the first – it covers a much longer timespan, it’s far more episodic in structure than the first half, a number of key twists in the plot rely on unlikely coincidences, and the ending is abrupt. Evans and his cast finesse it very well, but the ending of the show, in particular, feels rushed. Magnolia and Ravenal’s love story – arguably the show’s biggest plot strand – always feels as if there are at least a couple of scenes missing in the second half of Act Two, and that’s more the case than ever here; Michael Xavier’s Ravenal, in particular, is short-changed by this particular version of the script. There’s no number for Magnolia and Ravenal’s daughter Kim in the final scene, and it’s missed; there’s room in this version of the show for a little bit more material in Act Two, and that particular cut is a cut too far. In terms of cuts/additions to the score, other characters fare better. Queenie’s haunting “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun'” – cut against Jerome Kern’s wishes from the original 1927 production but present in a lot of the show’s underscoring and heard prominently in the overture – is a welcome addition, and Sandra Marvin sings it movingly; I’m not sure the second act needs “Hey Feller” and “Ah Still Suits Me”, but Marvin and Kojo are so good that more time with them is welcome. The most famous numbers – “Only Make Believe”, “Old Man River”, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”, “Bill” etc – are of course all present and correct, and “Why Do I Love You?”, thank God, is not uncomfortably handed off to the dour Parthy as a solo, as it was in the Livent production. Yes, a bigger orchestra would have been nice – but in a venue this size, that was never going to happen.

As for the thorniest issue regarding Show Boat’s script and score, this production treads a very careful line. In the opening chorus, “coloured folk” work on the Mississippi; the N-word is heard only as a term of abuse from the more bigoted white characters. In 2016, there’s no context for that word that isn’t shocking; here, it’s used sparingly, and for maximum impact.  The choice pays off in this production’s riveting account of the miscegenation scene; in it, the N-word goes off like a bomb, in a way that it possibly wouldn’t if you’d already heard it sung twenty times by the chorus in the opening number.

And while I do have some quibbles with the material this version of the show chooses to include/omit in the second act, they don’t diminish Daniel Evans’s great achievement here: in terms of pure entertainment, this is as fine a Show Boat as you could hope to see, even if it doesn’t have a huge chorus or a big string section. And not only is it a terrific production, the top-price ticket for the matinee I attended was £26 – between half and one-third of what you’d expect to pay these days for a big musical in the West End, and less than the cost of most tickets for musicals at the half-price booth in Leicester Square. It’s running another week and a half, and there are still a few tickets left. It’s still only January, but this is probably as good a musical revival as you’ll see all year.