Discuss why you think Showboat was so successful. Refer to music examples in your answer.

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Discuss why you think ‘Showboat’ was so successful. Refer to music examples in your answer.

‘Showboat’ was initially a novel written by Edna Ferber in 1926. She took inspiration for it during the several weeks she spent on the ‘James Adams Floating Palace Theatre’ in Bath. The novel was then brought to the stage by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein ll, who together, wrote both the libretto and music for the show which opened on 27th December 1927 in the Ziegfield Theatre. That night after the show, the audience filed out in silence, leading the producer, Florenze Ziegfield to believe he’d gone too far by putting such a show on the stage. However, to his relief, he was met the following morning with ecstatic reviews about the play. ‘Showboat’ then went on to be performed on Broadway and the West end, being filmed and produced twice, firstly being released in black and white and later in Technicolor.

Although in saying this; Ziegfield had good reason to be anxious about the response ‘Showboat’ would receive, as it was the first musical to deal with serious issues such as racism, marital strife and alcoholism. Up until this point, audiences were used only to light hearted entertainment such as operettas, pantomimes, burlesques and shows of a vaudeville nature; and although these forms of entertainment often contained music and performing, they lacked the integration of music into the play as the Broadway musicals would come to have.  All previous forms of entertainment served their purpose as being enjoyable and light-hearted which is why ‘Showboat’ received the response it did, as never before, had an audience been asked to think about and question serious, social issues.

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The opening piece of music in ‘Showboat’ is called ‘Niggers All Work’ which highlights the theme of racial discrimination immediately. The lyrics assist the theme of prejudice and inequality as the workers sing, ‘Niggers all work while de white men play’. The workers’ incessant monotonous torture is displayed via the rhythm of the piece which constitutes the piece as a work song, representing the monotonous labour the black people were forced to carry out. The melody of the piece consists of detached, staccato notes accompanied by hollow chords in the bass. This combination makes the piece seem empty and lacking ...

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