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Show BoatPerforming Race in an American Musical$

Todd Decker

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199759378

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199759378.001.0001

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(p.253) Appendix 2 Archival Sources for the 1927 Broadway Production

(p.253) Appendix 2 Archival Sources for the 1927 Broadway Production

Show Boat
Oxford University Press

Four complete drafts of Hammerstein’s libretto survive. Each provides a unique glimpse of the 1927 Show Boat as a work in progress. For ease of reading and to communicate a consistent sense of chronology, in the text I refer to these draft librettos by the month in 1927 during which (or by which) they were typed. The libretto for the Broadway production, which was never published, survives in several identical typescripts and is referred to in the text as the Broadway version.


New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, Flo Ziegfeld-Billie Burke Papers 5/6.

Scott McMillin was the first to detail the contents of this source in his article “Paul Robeson, Will Vodery’s ‘Jubilee Singers,’ and the Earliest Script of the Kern-Hammerstein Show Boat” in Theatre Survey 41, no. 2 (November 2000): 51–70. McMillin refers to the item by its former shelflist RM#7430. The cast list has Paul Robeson and Elizabeth Hines penciled in as Joe and Magnolia. Contracts with both were announced in Variety in December 1926. On January 26, 1927, Robeson’s participation was put in doubt by the New York Times and on February 7, the same paper announced that Ziegfeld was postponing Show Boat until the fall. Hines was never mentioned again as a possible Magnolia. January seems the likely completion date for this source, which is referred to as typescript B in Katherine Axtell, “Maiden Voyage: The Genesis and Reception of Show Boat, 1926–1932” (PhD diss., University of Rochester, 2009).


Library of Congress, Music Division, ML 50.K43 S3 1927.

Stamped with the date August 3, 1927. Axtell, “Maiden Voyage” refers to this source as typescript C.


Wisconsin Historical Society, Edna Ferber Papers 20/7.

This carbon typescript contains pen and pencil notations by Hammerstein, Kern, Ferber, and possibly others. I first described its contents in my 2007 University of Michigan PhD dissertation. “Black/White Encounters on the American Musical Stage and Screen (p.254) (1924–2005).” The second page of the source is a cast list that reflects final casting decisions. Almost all the principals had been cast by the time this page was typed. Only the role of Joe remained open. Progress casting Show Boat was consistently reported in the press during fall 1927. Three different sources—the New York Times, Variety, and the New York Age (a black newspaper)—all announced the start of rehearsals for the week of October 17. The Times announcement on October 15 (“Theatrical Jottings”) also summed up casting so far. The list in the Times matches that found in the October typescript with the omission of Charles Winninger as Cap’n Andy. The next day, Sunday, October 16, the Times announced Winninger’s casting (“Rialto Gossip”). Jules Bledsoe was not announced for the part of Joe until October 30. Thus the October draft can be dated to mid October 1927, around the time rehearsals began, but before Bledsoe had been cast as Joe. Axtell, “Maiden Voyage” refers to this source as typescript D.


New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Billy Rose Theatre Collection, NCOF+ (Kern, Show Boat).

This carbon typescript is a copy of the October version that has been marked up in pencil with cuts and stage business, and supplemented with lyric sheets and at least one completely retyped and revised scene (the last scene in act 2). The sole surviving copies of lyrics for several rejected numbers (“Cheer Up” and “Yes Ma’am”), an early try at “Life on the Wicked Stage,” and a unique version of “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’” are included, suggesting this draft was used both during rehearsals and in the early weeks of tryouts. The last new song to be added to Show Boat was “Hey, Feller!,” the lyrics for which are in this draft but not the dialogue for Queenie and Joe that sets up the song. “Hey, Feller!” first appears in the Philadelphia tryout programs, suggesting it was added during the previous week in Cleveland—the last week in November 1927 (hence the short title assigned this draft). Axtell, “Maiden Voyage” refers to this source as typescript E and provides a table comparing the contents of the October and November drafts on a song-by-song basis.

By the time Show Boat reached Philadelphia on December 5 for a three-week stand, the show was basically frozen. No major numbers were added or cut beyond this point. In the early weeks of December, the Show Boat libretto was retyped, incorporating all the new numbers and revised dialogue, going from draft libretto to blueprint for performance.

The Broadway Version

At least three identical copies are extant: two in the New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theatre Collection—RM #7787 and Flo Ziegfeld–Billie Burke Collection 5/5—and a third, with notes in Hammerstein’s hand, among papers belonging to the Hammerstein family. (My thanks to Ted Chapin and Bruce Pomahac for granting access to the third copy.) The Oscar Hammerstein Collection at the Library of Congress contains a fourth typescript of the Broadway version, bound in red leather for presentation by Hammerstein to his wife, (p.255) Dorothy (his customary practice). The text differs from the above three only in small details (such as stage directions entered in pencil by Hammerstein in the leather-bound copy, which are incorporated into the typed text of the above three). A fifth typescript, identical in its contents to the first three but retyped by a London service, was placed on deposit with the Lord Chamberlain’s Office anticipating the May 1928 London opening of Show Boat (British Library, Manuscripts Department, LCP 1928/33). This last source was likely produced by retyping a copy of the Broadway version according to British practices. (p.256)