Show Boat

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Synopsis of Show Boat

In the 1880s the show boat Cotton Blossom is travelling up and down the Mississippi River and stops in Natchez. Cap’n Andy introduces his actors to the townsfolk that have gathered (“Cotton Blossom”). Steve, the leading man, gets in a fight with an engineer who has been making moves on Julie, the leading lady and Steve’s wife. Cap’n Andy convinces the crowd that the fight is just a preview of what’s to come. The crowd follows the troupe back on board and with the group comes Gaylord Ravenal, a handsome riverboat gambler. Ravenal takes quickly to Magnolia, Cap’n Andy’s daughter, and she responds in kind and tells him she wishes to be an actress (“Make Believe”). Magnolia turns to the crew and troupe for advice about loving Ravenal. Joe, a black dock worker, tells her to seek advice from the river (“Ol’ Man River”) and Julie tells her to be cautious. Magnolia tells her that if she finds out that he is no good she will stop loving him, but Julie tells her it hard to stop loving someone (“Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”). Queenie, Joe’s wife, hears Julie singing and is surprised that Julie knows a song that only “colored-folk” sing.

That night, during rehearsal, the troupe learns that the town sheriff is coming to arrest Julie, as she is of mixed race. Steve cuts the back of her hand and sucks some of her blood. When the sheriff arrives, Julie admits to being mixed race and so does Steve, and the troupe backs him up. Regardless of their confessions, they still are not allowed to act on the boat and must leave. Cap’n Andy can do nothing for them, but does fire Pete who brought the sheriff to the boat. Ravenal returns and asks for passage and Cap’n Andy decides to make him leading man. Cap’n Andy also decides to make Magnolia the leading lady, to the chagrin of her mother Parthy.

Magnolia and Ravenal become a hit with the crowds over the weeks and have fallen in love. Ravenal proposes and Magnolia accepts (“You Are Love”) and they plan to marry the next day, since Parthy is out of town. Parthy returns with a sheriff after she learns that Ravenal once killed a man. It is established that he was acquitted, but Cap’n Andy defends him saying he once killed a man, too. Parthy faints, but the wedding ceremony continues.

Six years pass, Ravenal and Magnolia have moved to Chicago, living on Ravenal’s precarious winnings from gambling. First, they are rich and happy (“Why Do I Love You?”), but by 1903 they have a baby, Kim. Their income varies and they end up broke, living in a boarding house. Ravenal, depressed and unable to support Magnolia and Kim, leaves. Magnolia goes looking for a singing job and applies at the Trocadero, where Julie is working. When Julie learns that Magnolia is looking or a job, she gives hers up so Magnolia can have it. Cap’n Andy and Parthy go to Chicago for a surprise visit. Cap’n Andy goes to the Trocadero and sees Magnolia nearly booed offstage. He rallies the crowd with a sing-along of “After the Ball.” After this Magnolia becomes a musical star.

Twenty years pass and Magnolia, now retired, is returning to the Cotton Blossom with Kim who is now a Broadway star. Cap’n Andy happens upon Ravenal and arranges for a reunion. Kim performs for her admirers by singing an updated version of “Why Do I Love You?” and Ravenal sings to Magnolia offstage. He is hesitant to ask her to take him back, but Magnolia has never stopped loving him and greets him warmly and takes him back. The cast sings the last verse of “Ol’ Man River” as the couple walks up the boat’s gangplank.

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