alphabetical author index

SHOW BOAT (Goodspeed Version)

Spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, this lyrical masterpiece concerns the lives, loves and heartbreaks of three generations of show folk on the Mississippi, in Chicago and on Broadway (and their life-long friends).

  • Full Length Musical
  • Drama

  • Time Period: 1920s, 19th Century
  • Target Audience: Pre-Teen (Age 11 - 13), Teen (Age 14 - 18), Adult, Appropriate for all audiences
  • Set Requirements: Unit Set/Multiple Settings

  • Performance Group:
  • High School/Secondary, College Theatre / Student, Community Theatre, Professional Theatre
Created for a Reduced Cast and Orchestra. 

Spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, this lyrical masterpiece concerns the lives, loves and heartbreaks of three generations of show folk on the Mississippi, in Chicago and on Broadway (and their life-long friends). 

The primary plot follows Magnolia, the naive daughter of the show boat captain, as she marries a gambler and moves with him to Chicago. His gambling continues as his debts compound, and soon he deserts her and their young daughter. A subplot concerns the potential arrest of Magnolia's selfless best friend on charges of miscegenation when it's discovered that she is mulatto, and her subsequent downward spiral into despair. 

The passing of time reunites Magnolia and her now-grown daughter with her family on the show boat as well as with her husband, who eventually returns offering a hopeful second chance at familial fulfillment. 

This Production Originally produced by Goodspeed Musicals, Michael P. Price, Executive Director, Directed by Rob Ruggiero.


SMALL BOAT, BIG SHOW!...SHOW BOAT is a three-hour long extravaganza…That spells big bucks, and now that America’s financially beleaguered regional theater companies are increasingly turning to small-scale productions of surefire shows, revivals of SHOW BOAT have become fewer and farther between…Now Goodspeed Musicals has triumphantly solved the SHOW BOAT problem. Rob Ruggiero’s heart-lifting new revival succeeds in shoehorning SHOW BOAT onto a very small stage without compromising its expansive spirit in any way…Mr. Ruggiero has skillfully trimmed the score and streamlined the book with an eye toward making SHOW BOAT more practical to produce…[His version] deserves to be seen widely…I hope it will encourage other companies that long to perform America’s first great musical but are afraid of busting their budgets.

Wall Street Journal

This grand, glorious and smart production…captures the sweep of the themes while zeroing in on the story…Director Rob Ruggiero creates a production that is all of a piece, that has both sweep and intimacy and is nothing less than a minor miracle of staging.

Hartford Courant

It took the Goodspeed Opera House to prove it, but size doesn’t matter! That’s right, although it may be on a much smaller stage in a compact, jewel-box of a theater, but Goodspeed Musicals’ current adaptation…is a full-fledged sprawling revelation…Not for a minute does one feel shortchanged by this production, which makes subtle, generally unnoticeable cuts to the book and judiciously trims a few unremarkable songs and extended dance music from the overall score. Met with approval by the Hammerstein, Kern and Ferber estates, director Rob Ruggiero’s delightful, rewarding and ultimately moving production is more of an accommodation to the limitations of a smaller stage rather than an overall rethinking of the musical. In fact, this production will no doubt open doors to SHOW BOAT being staged by theaters previously intimidated by the size and scope of the musical landmark…Ruggiero’s take [is] able to fit the richness of the score and epic scope of the plot into an economic model that can ensure the work’s preservation for years to come.

Hartford Examiner

This deservedly beloved classic has been retooled for 21st-century audiences (and budgets) with no loss of impact…The director of this SHOW BOAT, Rob Ruggiero, with the blessing of the rights holders, has slimmed it down to allow for a tighter space, a smaller ensemble, fewer sets and a shorter running time. As a result, the show’s dramatic core…comes sharply into focus.

New York Times

Goodspeed Musical’s delicious revival…proves that you can revisit and rethink a classic in a way that honors the original…[Director Rob] Ruggiero’s contributions to this production extend beyond the routine tasks of the director. He has worked closely with the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization to shrink and tighten the legendary 1927 musical to a manageable size for the tiny Goodspeed stage and length for modern audiences prone to fidgeting from cellphone withdrawal after 2-and-a-half hours…Ruggiero wisely focuses on the intimate family drama at the heart of the spectacle and therein succeeds in creating a heartfelt and emotional SHOW BOAT.

Jacques Lamarre Broadway World
Premiere Production: In 1927, Show Boat came to Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theater, staged by Oscar Hammerstein II. The show ran for 572 performances.
  • Casting:
  • Casting Attributes: Strong Role for Leading Woman (Star Vehicle), Strong Role for Leading Man (Star Vehicle), Minority casting
  • Casting Notes: The ensemble for Show Boat features a Black singing and dancing ensemble and a non-Black singing and dancing ensemble. Doubling is indicated by a slash and a cast of 24 is suggested.

  • Based on the 1926 novel by Edna Ferber and spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, Show Boat chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom. The roles and ensembles indicated as African American should be cast accordingly. One pivotal plot point involves the character of Julie, who is mixed race. This should always be taken into consideration when casting that particular role. The use of make-up or prosthetics to alter an actor's ethnicity is prohibited.

    KIM - a child
    PETE GAVIN / JEB - another Backwoodsman / ENSEMBLE
    WINDY - the pilot / JIM GREENE / ENSEMBLE
    TOWN GIRL #1 / A GOVERNESS / LOTTIE - a young lady / ENSEMBLE
    TOWN GIRL #2 / NUN #1 / DOTTIE - a young lady /ENSEMBLE
    TOWN GIRL #3 / NUN #2 / KIM - an adult /ENSEMBLE
    JAKE - a piano player / ENSEMBLE
    CHARLIE - a doorman / ENSEMBLE
    ENSEMBLE (3)