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Show Boat is a 1927 musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, based on a 1926 book. It has been filmed in 1929, 1936, and 1951. The 1936 version was directed by James Whale, who is best known for directing Universal Horror films such as Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein.

The story starts with the Cotton Blossom, a showboat with well-known actors arriving in a town in the late 1800s. Magnolia Hawks, the daughter of the showboat's owners, falls for a wandering gambler named Gaylord Ravenal. When the lead actors of the boat are forced to leave due to racial issues at the time (Julie being biracial), Magnolia and Gaylord take over as the leads, and become an instant hit.

The musical is possibly most known for Paul Robeson's rendition of "Ol' Man River" in the 1936 version.

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This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Magnolia is said to have black hair in the book, but every stage and film portrayal has her as a blonde.
  • All Part of the Show: How Cap'n Andy plays off the fistfight between Steve and Pete over Julia.
  • Badass Baritone: Bass-baritone Paul Robeson's memorable "Ol' Man River" from the 1936 film version.
  • Blackface: A whole number centers around Magnolia giving a performance in blackface. Possibly justifiable in that this is The Musical Musical and blackface was indeed quite popular in that era.
  • Black Gal on White Guy Drama
  • Costume Porn: The film versions are loaded with Gorgeous Period Dress.
  • Entitled to Have You: This is what leads to Julie being kicked off the ship—an entitled guy is mad that Julie doesn't want his gifts, so he goes to the sheriff to expose her mixed-race status.
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  • Exact Words: Steve avoids a criminal charge of miscegenation with Julie by claiming to have "more than a drop of Negro blood in me". By cutting Julie's hand and swallowing a couple of drops of blood.
  • Happily Married:
    • Steve and Julie were this while they were together. Unfortunately, he abandons her after they leave the show.
    • Joe's laziness may annoy Queenie, but the song "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" makes it clear that they're still very much in love with each other.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Certainly couldn't call a character "Gaylord" in the 21st century, much less have another character deliver lines like "Where's Gay? Where's my Gay?"
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hearing that Magnolia needs a singing job to raise her daughter after Gaylord abandons them in shame at his inability to support them, Julie quits to open up a spot for her, without ever telling her.
  • Hidden Depths: Joe. A lazy, teasing character, bordering on an old stereotype. But he does get the song that is often most remembered, and is the one to fetch a doctor for Magnolia when she's in labor.
  • Large Ham: Everyone on the stage, but especially the villain character.
  • Lazy Bum: Joe, quite cheerfully, much to the annoyance of his hard-working wife.
  • Minor Character, Major Song: "Old Man River," is, undoubtedly, the most known song from the production and generally the most remembered part.
  • Nice Guy: Frank. Of the three performing couples, he's the only one to stay with his partner, in spite of not being romantically linked. He also goes out of his way to help Magnolia get a job.
  • Not So Above It All: Parthy at times
  • Orbital Shot: How Paul Robeson's performance of "Ol' Man River" starts in the 1936 film.
  • Pass Fail: Julie is biracial.
  • Pretty in Mink: Some furs show up in the film versions, such as Magnolia wearing a white ermine cape at the end of the 1936 version.
  • Role-Ending Misdemeanor: An In-Universe example. Pete gets thrown off the boat for costing Captain Andy his two leading performers.
  • Sassy Black Woman: One of the few films of Hattie McDaniel's career in which she didn't play a Mammy. Instead she's Queenie, Joe's sassy wife.
  • Scenery Porn: It's a very nice boat.
  • Show Within a Show: Anything that shows up on the stage.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Turns out Gaylord killed a guy. The sheriff says that the jury figured the guy had it coming.
  • Tempting Fate: Magnolia probably shouldn't have said "Gay just can't lose!"
  • Title Drop: The first line of dialogue in the 1936 film. "There's the show boat!"
  • Token Minority Couple: Joe and Queenie, the two main black characters.
  • What, Exactly, Is His Job?: An irritated Queenie notes that Joe doesn't do much of anything on the showboat. He works as an usher but that's about it.
  • White Male Lead: Subverted, although the lead is white and female. Of the white male characters, only two can be seen as being really good people {Frank and Cap'n Andy), while the rest do not come off as very nice people.
  • The Wicked Stage: It discusses this in the number "Life on the Wicked Stage." Ellie disillusions her female admirers that she's only had scandalous affairs on stage.

Alternative Title(s): Showboat

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