- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

NOW PLAYING

Show BoatSignature Theatre — ★★★ Originally staged in 1927, this Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical is almost an embarrassment of riches. The term “showboating,” in fact, could be applied to its lavish score, which features everything from infectious ditties in three-quarter time and ragtime jazzies to heart-wrenching ballads and soaring operatic duets. The term also could serve just as well for the ambitions of the piece, which took musical theater from light entertainment into the modern age with its depiction of racism, gambling addicts and sweeping change in America at the turn of the 20th century. At its heart, though, “Show Boat” is a love story between Magnolia (Stephanie Waters), the talented young daughter of Cotton Blossom show-boat operators Cap’n Andy (Harry Winters) and Parthy (Kimberly Schraf) and charming gambler Gaylord Ravenal (Will Gartshore). Signature Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer whittles all this down to a swift-moving nearly three-hour production — an amalgam of the 1927 original, the 1946 Broadway revival and a 2005 version by Nic Muni for the Berne Opera. Some moments are unhurried, but many highlights are either unexplored or go by in a blur. Still, “Show Boat” is about as difficult to resist as a slice of mile-high pie. Through Jan. 17. 703/573-7328

Young FrankensteinKennedy Center Opera House — ★★½ The funniest scene in this Mel Brooks musical adapted from his 1974 film, occurs toward the end. The show’s eponymous doctor leads his monstrous creation in a tap-dancing routine. Performing a duet of “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” Dr. Frankenstein gestures to the bumbling, hulking man-beast, who has you in stitches from the moment he starts to belt out barely decipherable lines. This revelation probably won’t come as a surprise to the film version’s many fans, as its most memorable scene one that rightfully has earned itself a place in the pantheon of American motion-picture comedy — has the magical pairing of Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein and Peter Boyle as the Monster doing their best to imitate Fred Astaire. And therein lies the problem for the stage production: No matter how wonderfully Roger Bart and Shuler Hensley re-create the roles of, respectively, Dr. Frankenstein and the Monster, one keeps coming back to the same conclusion: The film was funnier. This wouldn’t be a dilemma if Mr. Brooks and his co-writer, Thomas Meehan, had come up with enough new material to make “Young Frankenstein” something utterly different yet also true to its source material. “Young Frankenstein” depends mostly upon gags from the original film to advance through its two-hour running time. Yet, whatever the laziness of the book and lyrics, the quality of the production is heightened with strong performances by actors working hard not to impersonate their film predecessors. Through Jan. 10. 800/444-1324 or 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

Compiled by Jayne Blanchard and James Kirchick

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