Show Boat

Full-Length Musical, Drama  /  8f, 9m, 1girl(s)

Music by Jerome Kern
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Based on the novel Show Boat by Edna Ferber

This classic musical, centered around the Hawkes family, follows forty years in the lives of the people connected with a Mississippi River show boat. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love.

  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    8f, 9m, 1girl(s)
  • Duration
    More than 120 minutes (2 hours)
  • SubGenre
    Adaptations (Literature), Period, Docudrama/Historic
  • Audience
    Target Audience
    Appropriate for all audiences, Adult
Licence details
  • Licensing fees and rental materials quoted upon application.


Spanning the years from 1880 to 1927, this lyrical masterpiece, centered around the Mississippi show boat Cotton Blossom, concerns the lives, loves and heartbreaks of three generations of show folk and their lifelong friends. Show Boat follows the story of the Hawkes family, including the captain’s naive daughter Magnolia, who wants to be a performer, as she marries a gambler and moves with him to Chicago. When his debts compound, he deserts her and their young daughter. Magnolia's selfless best friend Julie, a performer on the Cotton Blossom, faces arrest on charges of miscegenation, which is illegal, and she spirals into despair. The passing of time reunites Magnolia and her now-grown daughter with Magnolia's estranged husband, who returns offering a second chance at familial happiness.

Show Boat opened on Broadway at the Ziegfeld Theatre on December 27, 1927. The show was a great critical and popular success, running for a total of 572 performances. In 1936, Universal Studios released a film adaptation of the musical featuring Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Hattie McDaniel and Paul Robeson. In 1951, MGM released a full-color film adaptation, using many of the songs from the stage adaptation but reworking much of the plot. After its initial run, Show Boat returned to Broadway no less than six times: in 1932 and 1946 at the Ziegfeld Theatre; in 1948 and 1954 at New York City Center; in 1983 at the Uris (Gershwin) Theatre featuring Donald O'Connor as Cap'n Andy; and in 1994, again at the Gershwin, under the direction of Harold Prince. Prince's 1994 production earned Show Boat its longest Broadway run with 947 performances. In 2011, a new version of Show Boat, adapted for a smaller cast and orchestra, opened at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, under the direction of Rob Ruggiero.

Writers' Notes

Edna Ferber:

As the writing of the musical play proceeded (and its ups and downs were even more heartbreaking than those of most musical plays) I heard bits and pieces of the score. Once or twice everything was seemingly abandoned because Ziegfeld said he couldn't produce the play. Almost a year went by. I had heard "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" with its love-bemused lyric... I had melted under the bewitching strains of "Make Believe" and of "Why Do I Love You?"... And then Jerome Kern appeared at my apartment late one afternoon with a strange look of quiet exultation in his eyes. He sat down at the piano. He didn't play the piano particularly well and his singing voice, though true, was negligible. He played and sang "Ol' Man River." The music mounted, mounted, and I give you my word my hair stood on end, the tears came to my eyes, I breathed like a heroine in a melodrama. This was great music. This was music that would outlast Jerome Kern's day and mine. I have never heard it since without that emotional surge. When Show Boat was revived at the Casino Theater in New York just four years after its original production at the Ziegfeld I saw a New York first-night audience, after Paul Robeson's singing of 'Ol' Man River,' shout and cheer and behave generally as I've never seen an audience behave in any theater in all my years of playgoing.

Alice Hammerstein Mathias:

For the 1946 revival of Show Boat, my father Oscar Hammerstein II inserted a note in the program giving P.G. Wodehouse full credit for the lyrics to “Bill.”  Wodehouse did write the original lyric, but my father contributed to the song as performed in Show Boat. In addition, as was customary in the 1920’s, the authors interpolated three ‘modern’ selections to the second act. They are John Philip Sousa’s “The Washington Post March,” Joseph E. Howard’s “Goodbye, My Lady Love,” and Charles K. Harris’ waltz “After the Ball.” All three have become part of the traditional score of Show Boat.

Cast Attributes
  • Multicultural casting
  • Roles for Children
  • Strong Role for Leading Woman (Star Vehicle)
Performing Groups
  • High School/Secondary
  • College Theatre / Student
  • Community Theatre
  • Professional Theatre
  • Church / Religious Groups

The ensemble for Show Boat features a Black singing and dancing ensemble and a non-Black singing and dancing ensemble, as well as numerous small roles and children.

Windy – the pilot of the Cotton Blossom.
Steve Baker – the leading man in the Show Boat Troupe
Pete – the engineer on the Show Boat
Queenie – the African American cook on the Show Boat
Parthy Ann Hawkes – Cap'n Andy's wife
Cap'n Andy – the captain of the Show Boat
Ellie May Chipley – the soubrette in the Show Boat Troupe
Frank Schultz – Ellie's boyfriend, the villain in the Show Boat Troupe
Julie LaVerne – Steve's wife, the leading lady in the Show Boat Troupe, mixed race
Gaylord Ravenal – a handsome gambler
Sherrif Vallon – of Natchez
Magnolia Hawkes – Parthy and Andy's daughter
Joe – Queenie's husband, an African American stevedore
Congress of Beauties
Jim Greene – the director of the floor show at the Trocadero Nightclub
Jake – the pianist at the Trocadero
Charlie – the doorman at the Trocadero
Mother Superior
Kim (child) – Magnolia and Ravenal's 10-year-old daughter
Old Lady on Levee

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.

  • Time Period 1920s, 1910s / WWI, 1900-1910, 18th Century
  • Features Period Costumes
  • Duration More than 120 minutes (2 hours)


Show Boat has become part of the American experience, part of our folklore, with ‘Ol’ Man River’ occupying a permanent place in our collective unconscious.” — The New Yorker

Excellent ...perilously close to being the best New York has seen...an exceptionally tuneful score...every ingredient that the perfect musical should have.” — The New York Times

Show Boat dates from 1927 but...it's for the ages.” — Chicago Tribune

A jewel of the American theater...Featuring so many perfect scenes and songs that it is impossible to mention them all. Show Boat is the granddaddy of every great musical ever written!” — Los Angeles Times

A masterpiece!...Show Boat is a great and richly entertaining musical.” — Houston Chronicle


Music Samples

1. "Cotton Blossom" - Stevedores and Townspeople
2. "Show Boat Parade and Ballyhoo" - Cap'n Andy, the Show Boat Troupe and Townspeople
3. "Only Make Believe" - Ravenal and Magnolia
4. "Ol' Man River" - Joe and Stevedores
5. "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" - Julie, Queenie, Magnolia, Joe and Quartette
6. "Life Upon The Wicked Stage" - Ellie and Ensemble
7. "Ballyhoo and Dance" - Queenie and Ensemble
8. "You Are Love" - Magnolia and Ravenal
9. "Finale" - Entire Ensemble
10. "At The Fair" - Sightseers and Barkers
11. "Why Do I Love You?" - Magnolia, Ravenal and Ensemble
12. "In Dahomey" - Dahomey Villagers
13. "Bill (Lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse)" - Julie
14. "Reprise: Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" - Magnolia
15. "Service and Scene Music, St. Agatha's Convent" - 
16. "Reprise: Only Make Believe" - Ravenal
17. "Goodbye My Lady Love (Cake Walk)" - Frank and Ellie
18. "After The Ball" - Magnolia
19. "Reprise: Ol' Man River" - Joe
20. "Reprise: You Are Love" - Ravenal
21. "Finale" - Entire Ensemble

Full Orchestration

Flute (Doubling Piccolo)
Oboe (Optional English Horn doubling)
Clarinet I&II
Horn I&II
Trumpet I&II
Violin A,B,C&D
Viola (Divisi)
Cello (Divisi)
Banjo/Guitar (Requires 2 Players)

Trap Set

  • Musical StyleClassic Broadway, Operetta
  • Dance RequirementsDifficult
  • Vocal DemandsModerate
  • Orchestra SizeMedium
  • Chorus SizeLarge


Music Rentals

Concord offers a full suite of resources to help you put on the show of a lifetime!
30 Libretto-Vocal Book
1 Piano-Vocal
1 Flute
1 Oboe
1 Clarinet 1&2
1 Bassoon
1 Horn 1&2
1 Trumpet 1&2
1 Trombone
2 Percussion
2 Banjo/Guitar
4 Violin A,B,C&D
1 Viola
1 Cello
1 Bass
1 Logo Pack
30 Libretto-Vocal Book
1 Piano-Vocal
1 Logo Pack


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Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895 in New York City. His father, William, was a theatre manager and for many years director of Hammerstein's Victoria, the most popular vaudeville theatre of its day. His uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, was a successful Broadway producer ...

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Jerome Kern

Jerome Kern (1885-1945) composed his first complete show, The Red Petticoat, in 1912. Between 1915 and 1919, he composed a series of intimate chamber musicals, mostly in collaboration with Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse, known as the Princess Theatre shows. These works — Very ...

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Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber (1887-1968) was an American novelist and playwright whose camera-like regional descriptions and vigorous portraiture of ordinary men and women made her one of the most popular authors of the early 20th century. Her first professional writing was done for newspaper ...

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