Smooth sailing for “Show Boat” at Narrows Community Theater

There’s a couple of hidden voices and a horde of funny characters in “Show Boat: In Concert,” put on from Friday, June 2 through Sunday, June 4 in St. Patrick’s auditorium, Fourth Avenue and 97th Street, by Narrows Community Theater (NCT).

The classic musical was cut down to its bare bones and made into a concert in honor of the late Mickey Sullivan, a longstanding member of NCT’s Board of Directors dating back to its founding in 1971. “Show Boat” was one of Sullivan’s favorite musicals.

The classic, which follows the lives of the performers, stagehands and dock workers on a Mississippi River show boat, was shortened mainly due to the show’s cost, according to the performance’s producer and NCT President Denise Higgins-Regan.

Bringing to life the masterpiece of Kern and Hammerstein, it seemed a little hard to believe the octet which played the show had such mastery of the music. Nobody seemed more focused than Jared Newlen on the clarinet and Evan Tyor did not miss a beat with a drum set consisting of what looked like as many drums as there were musicians. Set in the 1800s, the stage was bare aside from choral bleachers with seats and actors in uniform costumes. In the simple setting it made sense that the lighting design was barely distinctive, only marking the transitions of day and night.

A story following all kinds of love, the most entertaining couple to watch were Captain Any Hawks and his wife Parthy, played by Patrick Nash and Carrie Antonucci. Clearly enjoying their time on stage, laughs erupted across the audience when they sang between narrations and had dialogue towards the end of the show.

As for the vocals, special notice must be given to Kevin Ray Johnson in the role of Joe, Emily Mathis in the role of Magnolia and Beata Royzman in the role of Julie La Verne. Johnson dedicated his soul to the theater with every note and rendition of “Old Man River,” making his presence on stage noticeable and natural. In the role of the silent stoic type, his voice seemed to melt into the ears and draw empathy from the audience. Funnily enough, even the young children featured in the production seemed to be listening with rapt attention at the sound of his voice.

As for the girls, it is evident from the beginning that both Mathis and Royzman have had extensive vocal training. Royzman’s interpretation of her character fit like a glove and brings an ultimately refreshing and confident energy to the part. The level of fun she brought to the part can make the audience wish Royzman had space to frolic across the stage, or ultimately feel like she would be moving if only given the chance.

Mathis, on the other hand, balances this effort with a serious energy. In the shortened narrations that develop her arc, Mathis nevertheless carries the story as it happens. There’s segments where it is clear she is getting into character, but she is absolute in her technique and interacts with the other actors in a way that makes it easier to suspend disbelief and escape the room inside St. Patrick’s.

Overall it was a heartwarming weekend in honor of a patron and the cast seemed reminiscent and happy to promote the good will of Sullivan on the stage. Even with fresh faces to the NCT, the spirit in the room was cozy and welcoming — much like the dream Sullivan initially searched to find in the first place.

“Mickey Sullivan stayed on the board until he passed away about two years ago and he nominated ‘Show Boat’ for us to do many times in concert. It never got voted in and as a tribute to him, we’re doing it now,” said Maryjo Tipaldo of NCT’s Board of Directors prior to the performances, in which one of Sullivan’s granddaughters also took part.

“Mickey’s love for the art of theater and his lifelong dedication to keeping it available as a vital part of our local community knew no limit,” said a family spokesperson. “He was an active part of NCT until his very last day on earth. We were blessed beyond measure to have his influence in our lives and he will forever be remembered as an inspiration to us all.”

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