Show Boat

Original Broadway Production (1927)

Trivia & History

The production was originally supposed to go into the Lyric Theatre but producer Florenz Ziegfeld deemed the stage too small. Rio Rita was originally supposed to be the first show at the new Ziegfeld Theatre. Because of the stage size, Ziegfeld shifted Rio Rita to the Lyric and Show Boat to the Ziegfeld.


Casting might-have-beens:

  • Florenz Ziegfeld originally wanted tenor Harry Fender as Ravenal. Fender had developed crippling stage fright and could not take the role.
  • Originally, Ziegfeld, Hammerstein and Kern wanted Paul Robeson to play Joe. But, when the production was delayed by a year, Robeson was unavailable.
  • Elizabeth Hines was announced as Magnoila (she announced this in her biography in the program for Rio Rita). When she was released from her contract, she sued Ziegfeld (see other note on this page).
  • Guy Robertson was announced as Ravenal.

Show Boat was originally intended to be produced around April 1927 with Elizabeth Hines, Guy Robertson and Paul Robeson. However, when the writing delayed the start of rehearsals, the performers were released.


Elizabeth Hines (who was announced for the role of Magnolia in early 1927) sued Ziegfeld for approximately $200,000 when he released her from her contract following the spring 1927 delay. She claimed that she signed a contract that if Show Boat was not produced in January 1927, Ziegfeld would find her another property. She lost the suit in the Supreme Court.


The world premiere at the National Theatre in Washington DC on November 15, 1927 became legendary for both its impact and its length. The first act curtain came down at 10:30 and the final curtain fell at 12:40am.

Following the premiere performance, drastic cuts were made.


Show Boat proved so popular that in February 1928, Ziegfeld announced that he would open a second New York company at another theatre to play simultaneously. Possible cast members mentioned were Raymond Hitchcock as Cap'n Andy, Paul Robeson as Joe and Libby Holman as Julie. It never happened though.


The Broadway cast took the show on the road following the Broadway closing.



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