By Sue Moore
What is a Showboat? People who are new to the community would have little idea from the title. Certainly they’d have no idea whether it would be worth the time or cost to attend when it’s being offered as a musical happening at Vicksburg’s Performing Arts Center on March 2, 3 and 4.
Showboat is living theater that has been performed by local musicians and anchored by people in the greater Vicksburg community and showcasing an all-male chorus interspersed with jokes and skits.
The show has an interesting history, having staged 64 years of presentations since 1954. Today, it could be hard to believe that the show started out as a vaudeville revival of the old-fashioned minstrel show, blackface and all. In those years, the Vicksburg Rotary Club members were casting about for a fundraiser to benefit the community. They settled on the minstrel show idea because their members loved to sing.
They were good at singing four-part harmony but not so great at the end-men jokes. During the early years there were all kinds of script kerfuffles, most of which drew peals of laughter from the hundreds in the audience.
The presentation got something of an upgrade in 1984 when a decision was made to get rid of the blackface. Club members acknowledged that they had been insensitive through the years. At first, the all-male chorus and actors felt self-conscious without their masks on, but in fact it made the show ever so much better and sophisticated, said Charlie Kendall, who has appeared in over 20 of the shows as a soloist with his beautiful tenor voice.
The Rotary Club has continuously drawn on local musical talent from the community, not just the members of the club. Over the years it has truly become a glue that tied the greater community of Vicksburg together, Warren Lawrence, a long-time Rotarian, has said. The chorus has been a mainstay of the show as the skits developed their own following for slapstick and showmanship. Kids love the pratfalls while adults find the four-part male chorus the biggest reason to attend.
In 1994, the Showboat moved from the high school gym to the new Performing Arts Center and turned another corner in its professionalism. The acoustics were far better, the curtains would close on time and the stage was much larger in order to accommodate the 40 to 50 chorus members.
Hundreds of performers have filtered through the cast over the years and enjoyed the camaraderie that keeps them coming back to weekly rehearsals from January through February. Soloists have included the likes of school Superintendent Charlie Glaes to members of the high school’s Simply Men chorus.
Over $500,000 has been raised through ticket sales and advertising in the Showboat program. All of which has gone back into the greater Vicksburg community to fund deserving projects. This year’s theme for the show is “A Dose of Reality” featuring the nearly bankrupt cast as they again seek to raise the money to keep the show going for another year.
General admission tickets are on sale for $10 at the Vicksburg Cultural Arts Center, 101 E. Prairie Street in Vicksburg during its regular business hours. There are no reserved seats, as in the past. On the days of performances, tickets will be available at the box office at the high school. The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. for the matinee on Sunday.