Show Boat

Trivia & History

When a huge cache of musical theatre scripts, scores and orchestra parts were discovered in Warner Brothers' warehouse in Secaucus, NJ in 1982, among them was a great deal of material for Show Boat. Historian Robert Kimball, who was hired to catalog the discovery, later in a New York Times article, "No one conceived that so much Kern material had survived. [snip] There were 11 boxes, including thousands of pages, and more than 200 manuscripts written in Kern's own hand. Among them were many original manuscripts for Show Boat."


Without a doubt Show Boat is one of, if not the most, recorded American musical. Because the show has had multiple revisions, we have listed every bit of music we could find under it's respective 'Used in' section. We are of the belief that this is the most accurate and complete song list available. Please be aware that some numbers were not used in the original production, and that many were small fragments and very easily recognized by an audience member. Also, while scene titles are not something we are in a habit of listing, they are so recognizable we felt they should be included.

Dance Music

  • Any number marked "Dance" was part of the original production even though it was not mentioned in the program. It was not until Helen Tamiris was brought in to emphasize the dancing for the 1946 Broadway revival that titles were given to them (these have been listed as alternate titles). Additionally, in 1946, the dance segment of "Life On the Wicked Stage" received fragments of "I Might Fall Back on You" and "While Strolling Through the Park".

"Bill"

  • "Bill" has an unusual past. It is rumored to have been written in 1906. It's first appearance was in Oh, Lady! Lady!! with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse, but was cut prior to opening. It was later recycled into Zip Goes a Million (aka Maid of Money) with brand new lyrics by B.G. DeSylva. After closing on the road, it was intended to be used in a planned musical called The Little Thing with the original Wodehouse lyrics.
  • The basic song idea was then used for Sally, but was once again cut.
  • When the song finally surfaced in Show Boat with Wodehouse's lyrics, Oscar Hammerstein II issued a statement in the program to this effect. However, as Miles Kreuger notes in his book on Show Boat, that when comparing the two pieces, there are some differences and Hammerstein is credited. Krueger says that Hammerstein kept Wodehouse's lyrics for the two versions and last eight bars of the refrains. He and Kern rewrote both music and lyrics for the first eight bars of both refrains.

"Kim's Imitations"

  • This number was initially used as a specialty number for Norma Terris, the star, and replaced "It's Getting Hotter in the North". The number utilized Terris' imitations of the popular entertainers of the period, and reprises of "Why Do I Love You?" Dances were added to give Terris and opportunity to change her costumes. Most revivals use only the reprises for this number.

Songs cut prior to opening on Broadway

  • The final version of "Musical Scena" has opening music, followed by dialogue with "Mis'ry's Comin' Aroun'" as an underscore and flows into "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man". The cut version deviated after the opening by adding dialogue, followed with Magnolia delivering a long monologue in waltz time, a reprise of "Make Believe", the dialogue/underscoring and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man". The cut material was about five minutes long.
  • "Waterfront Saloon Scene" is a longer version of "Till Good Luck Comes My Way". There was a gambling scene with underscoring, and part of the song was sung off stage. This led into the full song, and was about two minutes longer.
  • "Be Happy, Too" was originally called "Cheer Up". This song actually did appear in the program during the Washington, D.C. tryout, but was replaced by "Why Do I Love You?" in performance. "Be Happy, Too" turned up in Cleveland programs, but was rewritten with new lyrics as "I Might Fall Back on You".
  • While "My Girl" appeared in the programs in Washington, D.C. it was most likely not performed as lyrics have yet to be completed.
  • Originally titled "No Mason-Dixon Line", "It's Getting Hotter in the North" contained an instrumental dance with fragments of "I'm Just Wild About Harry". This was later replaced by "Kim's Imitations" (with "Eccentric Dance" and "Tap Dance").

Unused Songs

  • In an earlier draft, there was a scene involving a party at Kim's Manhattan apartment. "Rhapsody in Blue" (being played by a composer named George) ends as Kim enters. The chorus was then to sing a song typical of the ones used prior to a star making their entrance. Kim would then sing an old show-boat song, and a big dance would end the scene.

Edna Ferber (who wrote the source novel) and composer Jerome Kern were introduced by Alexander Woollcott at the opening of Kern's Criss Cross in 1926. Ferber was not keen on the adaptation of her novel to the stage at first because most musicals were fluffy and shallow. But Kern relented, convinced that he could do something with it. She eventually agreed.


Theatre lore says that Florenz Ziegfeld was hesitant to produce Show Boat because it lacked the conventions of 1920s musical comedy (light and frothy). However, after hearing part of the score in November 1926, Ziegfeld wrote to tenor Harry Fender expressing his excitement about the show and hinting that Fender may be good as Ravenal.


The show had a particularly long gestation period. Ziegfeld was accustomed to have act one delivered and put into rehearsal while the writers finished act two. However, with Show Boat, the script was delayed considerably due to its complexity. Hammerstein and Kern had a great respect for Ferber's novel and wanted to make the show into something different than a typical musical comedy. They paid a great deal of attention to character development and  writing the songs so that they grew out of the story.

Because of this, Ziegfeld complained bitterly in telegrams to Kern.


The Trocadero mentioned in Act Two was a real nightclub in Chicago at the time of the World's Fair. It was opened by the father of Show Boat's producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. The younger Ziegfeld's first job managing theatre was as a manager of the Trocadero. The location of the building is murky as it moved around quite a bit. Articles published in 1893 give its location as being at 16th & Michigan in Chicago. An article published in 1934 looking back at the Trocadero lists it as being located at that time at Monroe and Michigan.


An undisputed landmark in the world of musical theatre, Show Boat was the first serious musical and boasted (unlike other musicals of the day) well-constructed story and characters.



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