The beloved Heights Players ran aground with “Show Boat,” their current production.
Like the current of the mighty Mississippi, which provided the setting for the show, this vintage Jerome Kerr and Oscar Hammerstein musical of racial taboos and star-crossed love was simply too daunting for the Willow Place thespians.
I don’t mean to be a Players hater, but with a few exceptions, the Brooklyn Heights company recruited an underwhelming cast that lacks enough energy to propel the audience through the long performance of the classic Broadway musical.
It’s all the more disappointing because the show launched under propitious conditions.
From the start, I liked the cut of Raymond Wagner’s jib as Cap’n Andy Hawks, the proprietor of the itinerant riverboat theater. Also in the first scene, Joe (Andrew Horton) sang a mesmerizing version of that American standard, “Ol’ Man River.”
It looked like smooth sailing, but things took a turn for the worse as more and more characters appeared in the mammoth cast and, unfortunately, failed to coalesce.
Part of the love story concerned the romance between Magnolia Hawks (Helen Zalantis), the captain’s musically gifted daughter, and Gaylord Ravenal (Anthony Melendez), a handsome drifter.
Individually, each actor can boast having a pleasing voice, but they were a mismatched pair with Zalentis’s operatic vocal chords burying Ravenal’s crooning during their duets.
Another character with potential was Queenie, the cook (Elizabeth Ukpe).
Ukpe had appropriately sassy attitude, but not enough punch in her delivery to turn her character into the memorable supporting role it’s meant to be.
Director Thomas Tyler could have salvaged the production by throwing some of the extraneous ditties overboard in this plodding show. The first act alone clocked in at almost two hours.
Bottom line, the Heights Players, in a valiant effort, bit off more than it could chew with one of America’s best-loved musicals.
“Show Boat” at the Heights Players [44 Willow Pl., between Joralemon and State streets, (718) 237-2752] through May 24. Tickets $20.