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Show BoatPerforming Race in an American Musical$
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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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The Morgan Plan

The Morgan Plan

(p.57) 3 The Morgan Plan
Show Boat

Todd Decker

Oxford University Press

Nightclub singer Helen Morgan defined the important role of Julie. The interpolated song “Bill,” a signature moment in act two, was chosen specifically to match Morgan's existing persona as a singer of torch songs. Hammerstein changed Julie's character as described in Ferber's novel to match Morgan's public persona as a symbol of resistance to Prohibition. Morgan's difficulties with the law during Show Boat's Broadway run proved important to the show's continuing profitability. Julie's role in act one was written before Morgan was cast. She performed “Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man” in a manner that deflected issues of race surrounding her character. Morgan's approach to the song—singing in a “white” manner—is compared to the very different style adopted by blackface singer Tess Gardella who performed under the stage name Aunt Jemima.

Keywords:   Helen Morgan, Texas Guinan, Aunt Jemima, Tess Gardella, Florenz Ziegfeld, Prohibition, nightclubs, torch singing

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